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Foreign Investment Strengthens Jefferson County, AR Economy

Learn more about the foreign direct investment flowing into Jefferson County, where global businesses find advantages including a business-friendly environment, low operating costs and a skilled workforce.

By Laura Hill on November 30, 2015

International businesses are creating jobs and investing millions of dollars in Jefferson County, where they find advantages including a business-friendly environment, low operating costs and a skilled workforce. Companies with global reach are also spending millions of dollars to acquire and expand existing businesses. South Korea-based Kiswire, for example, plans to invest $46 million to modernize the steel tire cord operation it acquired in 2014 from another international business, ArcelorMittal. Austria-based Mondi made a $105 million purchase of Graphic Packaging International’s industrial bags and kraft paper businesses in Pine Bluff. Mondi plans to build a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art paper and bag testing facility at its Pine Bluff mill. The facility will also include a training room, which is expected to be home to the Mondi Academy. The academy will draw customers and employees nationwide for centralized training and demonstrations. Southwind Milling, a subsidiary of the Argentina-based Optimum Group, recently selected the Port of Pine Bluff for its new multimillion-dollar rice mill. Other companies with foreign ties include Liberty Utilities, which acquired United Water’s regulated water utility in Pine Bluff and is owned by Algonquin Utilities of Canada, and Ground Connection LLC, which sells and distributes ground screws made by German manufacturer Krinner.

Incentives, Workforce Training

“Once companies are introduced to Jefferson County, they find the welcome mat of incentives and business assistance ready to greet them,” says Bryan Barnhouse, director of economic development for the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County. That assistance includes incentives fueled by a voter-approved three-eighths cent sales tax that is used to fund economic development. Manufacturers also benefit from workforce training programs. “Since our manufacturing is ‘industrial-strength,’ the two- and four-year schools here are closely aligned with industry needs,” Barnhouse says. The result is a significant increase in productivity and a reduction in the cost of doing business. “Companies coming to Jefferson County typically can stretch their payroll 20 percent further than in the rest of the country,” Barnhouse says. Jefferson County is exceptionally attractive to international businesses. Of the approximately 5,400 people working in the manufacturing sector, 600 are employed by foreign companies. “That’s about twice the state percentage of workers employed by foreign-controlled companies,” he says. Foreign direct investment in the region has helped strengthen the diverse industrial base. “Global companies, while investing in our community for specific purposes, tend to have strong financial resiliency because of a dispersed presence in other locations, markets and business lines,” Barnhouse says. “These robust portfolios help weather economic downturns and infuse outside cash into the local system.”

Investing Locally

For Kiswire, the new international owner of a plant that has been in Pine Bluff since 1990 and employs 300 employees locally, the decision to expand in the area was easy. “We knew the community very well,” says Beverly Barrett, current deputy plant manager of Kiswire Pine Bluff. Being located close to the Port of Pine Bluff allows the company to economically receive its raw materials by barge from southern ports, and its main customers are also located nearby. Kiswire also enjoys a close relationship with the community. The availability of targeted incentives was another factor in the company’s decision to expand its Pine Bluff operations. The current expansion includes installation of a wastewater treatment facility and the construction of a new 100,000-square-foot building. “We are upgrading our existing facilities,” Barrett says. “We are also investing in new facilities to produce a totally new product – bead wire, which is a critical material for the tire manufacturing industry. No matter whether we are upgrading old facilities or building new facilities, local support is very important. We think Pine Bluff is a good place for our future business.”

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