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Arkadelphia, Ark. –

The Economic Development Corp. of Clark County met for its first time with a 15-member voting board Tuesday.

Business carried on as usual after the new members were sworn in by Circuit Clerk Martha Jo Smith. Chairman Euodias Goza said the new voting board will be the “same group as we have been, but instead of five voices, we have 15.”

Under EDCCC’s bylaws, officers are to be nominated and elected. Bill Wright suggested that, because of the change with the board, the EDCCC “move forward with (current) officers for the coming year.” He said he has been “satisfied” with officers Goza; Randy Sorrells, vice chair; Conner Eldridge, treasurer; and Frances Nelson, secretary.

Since Sorrells was not re-appointed to the EDCCC, the vice chair position was left open. Phil Baldwin nominated Eldridge for the position, and Dr. Lewis Shepherd as treasurer. Baldwin motioned to accept the changes, followed by a second from Wright. The motion carried by a voice vote.

Baldwin then entered a question about the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance board, noting that current bylaws state that all voting members of the EDCCC are on the Alliance board. Since the EDCCC had a boost in voting members, he suggested the Alliance select only five EDCCC members to comply with the Alliance’s bylaws. No action was taken, as the issue only needed an OK from the EDCCC.

Eldridge gave the financial report, saying the EDCCC’s balance is $1.3 million “with no liabilities.” Sales taxes received in June to fund EDCCC were “slightly down” at $117,000. So far this year the EDCCC has collected $682,000 — which Eldridge said is “slightly under” the budgeted $700,000. “We expect (to collect) $1.4 million this year, he said. He said the budget is “on target” with administrative services and “under budget” with the incentives portion.

Goza thanked County Judge Ron Daniell for his “effort and diligence” in selecting members for the new board. “It’s a diverse group and it will be well served.”

Shawnie Carrier, executive director of the EDCCC, introduced Del Boyette of the Boyette Strategic Advisors economic development firm. The EDCCC hired Boyette after former CEO Paul Harvel made the suggestion to hire a firm to perform an analysis on what types of industry the county should target.

Boyette gave a lengthy PowerPoint presentation on his strategic economic development “blueprint” for the EDCCC to follow. “These blueprints should help for the next five years,” he said, adding that the 100-plus page document is not one to be “put on a shelf somewhere.”

In a “benchmarking assessment,” the firm conducted research on cities and counties similar to Arkadelphia and Clark County “that have shown either emerging or successful economic development efforts in order to identify ideas that have been implemented by such cities/counties that led to prosperity.” The cities, he said, were chosen with criteria that the city had comparable demographics; was home to one or more institutions of higher learning; was located on or near a major interstate; was located close to a major city, and had recent economic development successes.

The five cities chosen for the study were Russellville (Pope County); Searcy (White County); Ruston, La. (Lincoln Parish); Tupelo, Miss. (Lee County); and Marshall, Texas (Harrison County).
Russellville’s claim to growth is that N.E.W. Customer Service Companies, Inc., the nation’s leading provider of extended service plans and buyer protection programs for consumer products, announced a new customer contact center in Russellville in June 2008. To date, the company has hired 300 workers.

In Searcy, several companies have recently located in or expanded in the Searcy area including: in March, Schulze and Burch Biscuit Company announced plans to open a toaster pastry manufacturing facility to employ 250; in November, Chesapeake Energy opened its new regional headquarters thereto employ 35; in November, BJ Services Co., a provider of completion and other services to oil and natural gas companies worldwide, broke ground on a new $82 million regional headquarters that will employ 150; and ConvaCare announced plans to build a new skilled nursing facility in October that is set to open this summer.

In Ruston, a new 32-acre commercial development called W. North Village Plaza recently broke ground that will include an 80,000 square-foot outdoor mall located half a mile north of Interstate 20.
In Tupelo, the Lee County area has experienced several business expansions and new company locations in recent years including the announcement by Toyota in 2007 to create 2,000 jobs paying $20 per hour and invest $1.3 billion in nearby Blue Springs, Miss.

In Marshall, in 2008, Davis Oilfield Services announced an expansion of 100 new jobs that pay above the average wage of the county; and in 2007, C&J Energy Services announced a new facility involving a $60 million investment in Marhshall Industrial Park over a three-year period. C&J plans to create 130 new jobs that pay $50,000 per year on average.

Other “commonalities” among the benchmark communities that were integral in their success were having: available sites and buildings with infrastructure; success with attracting retail; effective local incentives; and management of business incubators.

In addition to the assessment, Boyette Strategic Advisors interviewed 30 stakeholders through one-on-one interviews and small discussion groups. The top five recurring themes from the interviews related to strengths and weaknesses of the Arkadelphia area were listed. The strengths: two colleges; location on Interstate 30 within close driving distance to major cities; quality of life; public schools; and passage of sales tax to fund economic development. The weaknesses: lack of amenities (restaurants, retail stores and entertainment opportunities); being a dry county; unrealistic expectations of economic development; lack of positive perception of community by residents; and lack of selling itself as a good location for business.

The challenges that lay ahead, according to the interviews, are: retaining the workforce; lack of job opportunities; lack of amenities; dry county; and ensuring high school students are prepared to enter the workforce. Opportunities are: improving the knowledge and skills of the workforce related to high-tech skills; increasing communication between city, county and the two universities; getting college students more involved in the community; revising the incentives policy; and emphasizing recreational amenities in the area.

The top five “visionary thoughts to ensure success” are: making improvements to the area’s infrastructure; identifying new sites; improving appearance of the entrance to the community; determining what the area wants to be; and implementing the Clark County Strategic Plan.
Online surveys were conducted of 134 community representatives. Those who took the survey were provided with answer options for the majority of questions, but were also given the opportunity to provide other answers as they desired. The strengths: presence of two universities (80.5 percent); Interstate 30 location (75.9 percent); and outdoor activities (47.3 percent). The weaknesses: lack of amenities (85.7 percent); lack of positive perception by community residents (53.4 percent); and lack of white collar jobs (46.6 percent). The No. 2 weakness for the interviews was related to being a dry county, which was not provided as an answer option on the survey. Fifteen people added it in the comment section as another major weakness on the survey. The highest ranked opportunities on the survey were “somewhat different” from the highest ranked opportunities from the interviews. The top three opportunities were: more business/industry (70.7 percent); adding more amenities (66.2 percent); and merging Arkadelphia and Caddo Valley (38.3 percent). Thirteen people added becoming a wet county as an opportunity for the county.

Those who took the survey were asked, “What is the one thing that really needs to happen for Clark County to be most successful in the 21st Century economy?” Of those responses, 25 said becoming a wet county; 25 said more quality jobs; 13 said cooperative spirit in community — leaders working together; 13 said more progressive and positive thinking and pride in the community; nine said leadership improvement; and seven said more training and education of workforce.

See Thursday’s Siftings Herald for the rest of Boyette’s study.