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Jefferson County, AR: Incentives, Existing Infrastructure Encourage New Development

Opportunity, quality of life make Jefferson County, AR an attractive place to do business.

By Jessica Walker Boehm on July 22, 2014

When it comes to attracting new businesses and helping existing ones succeed, Jefferson County has more than its share of built-in advantages. Its central location along the Arkansas River and transportation network with Class I rail lines and major highways like Interstate 530 is just one example. Another is its hardworking, mechanically inclined workforce, which has allowed manufacturing, timber and food production industries to thrive for years.

Despite its many assets, Jefferson County, which encompasses Pine Bluff, White Hall, Redfield and other communities, isn’t resting on its laurels. Local officials are working to attract new business in fast-growing industries, such as life sciences and biotechnology, while also advancing the area’s reputation as one of the best places to live and work in Arkansas, the Southeast and the U.S.

A Business-Friendly Place

Several years ago, county voters passed a 3/8-cent sales tax, which now provides approximately $3.5 million a year for economic development incentives.

“The sales tax has been in place less than three years, but in that time we’ve brought in four industries,” says Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County.

These include Summit Poultry, which began operating a processing plant in Pine Bluff in January 2014, and Vivione Biosciences, which develops safety testing kits for food processing and medical industries and hopes to begin manufacturing kits in Pine Bluff in the near future.

“Within the next two to three years, the new companies could create over 500 jobs,” Nisbett says.

According to Nisbett, this recent surge of investment will supplement the strength of the county’s major employers, including Tyson Foods, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Central Moloney and Evergreen Packaging.

In Pine Bluff, a 5/8-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2011 is funding community improvements, including new and updated public safety facilities and a multipurpose center and aquatics park. Funds raised during festivities celebrating the city’s 175th anniversary will also go toward boosting local youth programs.

“It’s great to look around our city and see so much progress,” says Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth. “We are working hard to make this city a better place – and it’s really going to pay off in the future.”

Booming Commercial Development

Heady growth is also occurring along I-530, especially at Exit 34, home to Smart Auto Group’s new $15 million, 80,000-square-foot Smart Auto Park, which houses Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, General Motors, Hyundai and Honda dealerships. White Hall Mayor Noel Foster expects further development to occur at that interchange, due in part to existing infrastructure such as water, sewer and utilities. It helps, too, that Jefferson County keeps government bureaucracy to a minimum.

“We’re not going to tell you what you can’t do – we’re going to tell you what you can do,” Foster says. “And we help you get through the process of obtaining the appropriate permits.”

Looking further down the road, Foster also expects significant growth to occur along Highway 270, now that the thoroughfare has been approved for multilane improvement and will likely expand from three to five lanes over the next decade. And where commercial development occurs, financial institutions follow.

“In the 270 corridor and the I-530 area, a new credit union has just been built and another credit union is under construction,” says Foster, referring to the Fairfield Community Credit Union and Pine Bluff Cotton Belt Federal Credit Union, which is constructing a new branch in White Hall.

Recipe for Success

Both Nisbett and Foster cite a willingness for officials to work together as a major factor in the county’s steadily improving fortunes. “Every quarter I meet with the mayors and county judge, and we talk about the good that is happening and where we go from here,” Nisbett says.

“Our elected officials work in harmony,” agrees Foster, who describes the region as having found the “recipe for success.”

“For me, it’s real simple why we continue to see growth in White Hall,” he says. “People want what’s best for their children, and we have great public schools. Another reason people want to live and work here is our commitment to public safety.”

The city also boasts an exceptional parks system and a reputation for being a tight-knit community – both of which will soon to be bolstered by a new White Hall community center and an $8 million Crenshaw Springs Water Park under construction.

“A lot of businesses have relocated here because of the opportunity to make money,” Foster says. “You can have a business here and feel safe and comfortable and make a good living.”

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