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Growing Businesses Investing in Jefferson County, AR

Discover how Jefferson County's strategic location at the center of the country, skilled workforce, river port and well-developed transportation infrastructure and economic development incentives make it a destination of choice for growing businesses.

By Bill Lewis on November 30, 2015

With its strategic location at the center of the country, skilled workforce, well-developed transportation infrastructure and river port, and well-funded economic development incentive program, Jefferson County is becoming a destination of choice for an array of growing businesses. The county is home to one of the largest banks in the state as well as businesses involved in agriculture, food production, manufacturing, life sciences, and transportation and logistics. Businesses in Jefferson County include a who’s who list of well-known companies, including Tyson Foods, Evergreen Packaging, Central Moloney Inc., Stant USA Corp., U.S. Steel’s Wheeling Products Division, Sun Gro Horticulture, Planters Cotton Oil Mill, The Strong Company and Berenfield Containers. The community has an especially diverse manufacturing sector that accounts for nearly 20 percent of the area’s jobs, says Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County. “Rather than dependence on any one particular industrial employer, Jefferson County can boast a diverse manufacturing base that turns out a variety of products such as processed chicken, automotive closure caps, paper, liquid packaging board, electric transformers, steel shipping drums, horticulture mixes, cottonseed oil, steel pipe couplings and other fabricated metals,” Nisbett says. Other top Jefferson County employment sectors include education and health services, trade, transportation, utilities and state government. “Of course, agriculture is also still an economic mainstay for a county with a river running through it,” Nisbett says.

Logistics Advantages

Jefferson County’s advantages include the Port of Pine Bluff with year-round river access to southern ports, rail service provided by Union Pacific and BNSF, a network of easily accessible highways and commercial air service about 40 minutes north at Little Rock’s Clinton National Airport/Adams Field. Local services are available for corporate aircraft at Pine Bluff Regional Airport-Grider Field. Jefferson County recently caught the eye of Highland Pellets, which is investing a total of $170 million in a wood pellet facility that will create 36 full-time jobs and 482 indirect jobs in the region. The plant will ship its pellets to Europe, where they will be used as a more environmentally sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Annual production was originally expected to be 500,000 metric tons, but has grown to 600,000 tons. “Access to large volumes of non-merchantable sustainable wood from managed forests combined with a motivated local skilled workforce means that Arkansas is well placed to actively participate in the European wood pellet market,” says Tom Reilley, chairman of Highland Pellets. Europe doesn’t have enough sustainable forests to supply the wood pellets it needs, but the sustainable forests of Arkansas are underutilized following the decline of the paper and pulp industry, he says. For Highland Pellets, Jefferson County’s advantages include its location in the heart of sustainably managed forests, affordable energy prices, local support and the availability of mainline rail and barge facilities, Reilley says.

Reaching International, National Markets

Another growing business, Southwind Milling, is investing millions of dollars in a rice mill at the Port of Pine Bluff, where it is creating approximately 50 jobs. From its location along the Arkansas River, the company has quick access to international markets, says Eli Sotillo, Ph.D., Southwind Milling’s director of operations. “This location is strategic to transport by barges with access to international markets at a very competitive price,” Sotillo says. Southwind is already making plans for growth and has a number of projects in the pipeline, he says. In the service sector, another growing business, Simmons First National Corp., has more than 400 associates in Jefferson County and is one of the largest financial holding companies headquartered in Arkansas. Simmons First National Bank has expanded into three other states – Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee – and is now the third-largest bank in Arkansas, ranked by assets. Simmons, which now has $7.8 billion in assets, was founded in Pine Bluff in 1903 as Simmons National Bank with four employees and first-day deposits of $3,338. The company has evolved into the 102nd largest bank in the U.S. and serves more than 100 communities with more than 150 financial centers in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee, says Corporation CEO George Makris. “Due to the work ethic of Jefferson County residents, Simmons has now grown to be one of the largest financial corporations in the region, and we are proud to call Jefferson County home,” Makris says.

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