UP not aboard with rail facility plans

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

Another nail has been hammered into the coffin of an economic development project that’s been in talks for several years.

Based on Union Pacific’s needs for its rail line that runs through Clark County, the freight company will “most likely” not approve preliminary plans and sketches of a transloading facility in the Gum Springs industrial park, members of the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County learned in a meeting Tuesday.

The news comes more than a year after local economic development officials discussed its intentions with UP representatives and engineers. At the time, UP supported the idea of adding tracks and a hand-switch-operated transloading facility. The EDCCC in recent months pledged $1.3 million from its tax-funded coffers to match a federal grant to help fund the project. With the recent news from UP, however, it appears that the project and its funding are moot, leaving jobs officials at a crossroads for the next move.

“We are very disappointed,” said Shelley Short, CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance. “We’re at the point now that we’ve got to go back to UP and determine from them what exactly would be approved.”

“We kind of pushed back a little bit to ask UP if they would please meet with us and give us a better idea of what we needed to do, what it was going to take [and] how much it was going to cost” to get the project off the ground, Short said, adding that she hopes to determine the next course of action by this spring.

No more code names

Short also set a policy in regards to discussing prospective employers at EDCCC meetings, which are open to the public.

Generally, economic developers sign non-disclosure agreements while in talks with companies and keep their names under wraps until the company is ready to make a public announcement. The practice of applying code names to prospects dates back to the EDCCC’s 2008 inception. In its early years, the Alliance CEO would apply a letter to a project (“Project X”, which eventually was revealed as Sun Paper) in discussing any updates at public meetings of the EDCCC. In recent months words have been applied to code names like “Project Cupcake”, which we later learned was Hostess Brands.

“It would be my preference not to discuss those until there is an action item,” said Short. “In the nature of economic development, confidentiality is a very important piece of the puzzle. Even when you are talking about projects using a code name, some of that probably should not be made in a public setting based on the confidentiality agreement that we have with different companies or with different entities like [the Arkansas Economic Development Commission].”

She added she would be “happy to talk about the different industries they represent” but said it would be in “our best interest and helps us comply with keeping things confidential until they don’t need to be.” Asked for questions or comments from the EDCCC, board member Ross Whipple voiced agreement with Short’s policy.

Short said she is currently working on seven active projects but did not offer further details other than giving an update on the previously named “Project Innovex”. That company, she said, has been securing approvals from federal agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms “because of the type of product they are making.” Innovex is in a lease agreement on a 70-acre lot at the super site west of U.S. Highway 67 in Gum Springs. Innovex, which would create 8-10 jobs with “a lot of” potential for expansion, hopes to begin construction at the site by summer 2023, Short said.

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