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Arkansas’ Jefferson County Fosters Agribusiness Growth

With rich agricultural resources all around, Jefferson County has developed excellent food and agribusiness-related businesses.

By Jason Zasky on July 22, 2014

With the Arkansas River running through it, Jefferson County has a rich agricultural heritage that has served as the foundation for a growing number of agribusiness firms. The county has fertile soil and abundant natural resources, and connections to Interstate 530 and U.S. 65 and 270 put the area within an hour of interstates 40 and 30. This access creates tremendous potential for agriculture-based manufacturers to flourish in Jefferson County. Along with growing their operations, many of these firms are utilizing the latest technologies and processes to efficiently produce and distribute their products.

U.S. Sugar, the only independent processor and packager of brown and powdered sugars in the U.S., set up its facility in Pine Bluff in 2011. The company specializes in private label retail as well as industrial-type bags of sugar. Its customers include some of the largest grocers and retailers in the nation.

The company is running three full shifts on its retail granulated sugar packaging line at Pine Bluff.

“A food grade modern plant with existing rail siding is what made Pine Bluff attractive to us,” says Bill McDaniel, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Sugar. “We looked in half the states in the country for a property of this nature with great expansion potential, and Pine Bluff is the only place where we found it, and where it was also a very affordable property to buy and refurbish for our needs.”

Despite the current slump in sugar prices, McDaniel says the Pine Bluff facility will eventually undergo some substantial expansion. “We remain committed to expanding our business to cover our retail customers on a nationwide basis, and Pine Bluff remains a key component of our strategy,” he says.

McDaniel says the workforce in Pine Bluff is very positive, dependable and flexible to the company’s needs in an ever-changing market.

Innovative, Cost-Efficient Plants

Planters Cotton Oil Mill in Pine Bluff has been in business in Jefferson County since 1977, and built the first cottonseed plant to be constructed in more than 50 years when it opened its main facility in 1993. The mill has been rated the most cost-efficient plant in the U.S., according to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Cottonseed Crushing Facility Survey. The company, which has 60 employees at the Pine Bluff facility, sells bulk cottonseed and produces and sells cottonseed hulls and pellets to feed-lot operations across the nation. Cottonseed meal produced by the plant is an excellent source of protein for cattle and can also be used to grow flowers. Cottonseed oil produced at the plant is used by food manufacturers to make salad oil, mayonnaise and salad dressing.

“Being close to where the cotton is grown and having excellent rail access is a real benefit of being here in Jefferson County,” says Teresa McMillen, vice president of finance for Planters Cotton Oil. “We have enjoyed doing business in Jefferson County and have a good working relationship with the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County.”

Poultry and Paper Production

The area is also home to a processing plant and feed mill for top poultry producer Tyson Foods. Tyson’s Pine Bluff Complex has contract poultry growers located mostly in the southeast Arkansas region. The complex was acquired by Tyson in 1984, and the company built its processing plant on Jefferson Parkway in 1991. Tyson has more than 1,600 employees in the Pine Bluff area and a payroll of about $47 million.

With rich timber resources in the region, paper production is also a major segment of the local economy. Graphic Packaging International makes multiwall specialty paper bags and Graphic Flexible Packaging makes unbleached paper and board products. Both plants, located in Pine Bluff, deploy the latest technological processes in making their respective products, as does paperboard and coated-paper producer Evergreen Packaging, which employs more than 1,000 at its 56-year-old Pine Bluff facility. 

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