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Hope Lions Hear Program From Steve Harris of Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation

By Mark Keith, 02/21/22 9:28 PM

The Hope Lions Club heard a program on Monday from Steve Harris, President of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation.  Harris began the program by saying he was excited as our community has a “site visit” this week from a prospective industry.  He said the EDC’s “leads” often come from the Arkansas Economic Development Council in Little Rock and the most recent significant lead the EDC had was from Danson’s which recently purchased the old Temple/GP site and is currently operating a plant here.

Harris says getting a company to locate is often a process of elimination, i.e, the company eliminates communities that don’t have what they need.  He gave an example by citing the proliferation of rail service in Hope.  He noted there really aren’t that many communities with the rail options we have.  Harris also said the city also is fortunate to have plenty of land available for industrial development.  He notes they are often able to show potential industries a “shovel ready” site by having sites that already have completed “phase 1 environmentals” and “geotech soil boring”.

Other activities the EDC undertakes include going to conferences and a recent updating of their website.

Harris said in addition to recruitment, the EDC also works on business retention and expansion.  Hempstead County is already blessed with a lot of good existing employers.  He cited some statistics on manufacturing.  Harris says nationally, about 9% of jobs come from manufacturing.  Statewide, 13% of jobs are in manufacturing while Hempstead County has about 25% of its jobs in manufacturing.  Talking about expansion of local manufacturers, he noted Tyson is finishing up a $65 million dollar feed mill they hope to open in April.

Community corporate headquarters are something the EDC helps to work on.  He cited Pafford as an example of this.  Harris said Pafford’s expansion in recent years has resulted in the company serving about 10% of all Arkansas residents with ambulance services.

Harris said the EDC works to help local infrastructure.  He cited several projects they’ve worked on including the county road by Tyson, a drainage project by Chicken Express, and a grant to work on the city railroad spur.  Harris said that rail spur is part of why a company is visiting Hope this week to consider a possible project here.

Workforce has become the most important part of economic development.  He said they started working several years ago with the Southwest Arkansas Development Alliance to help market Hempstead and seven other counties in a regional approach.  He noted the current unemployment rate in Hempstead County is 2.3%.   Harris said they are looking at ways to attract more people to Hempstead County through quality of life issues and housing.  He also noted they have had events to get the message to young people there are good paying jobs in southwest Arkansas.  This included holding a program for all the 8th graders in the county to get them thinking about the local opportunities.  He also talked about mobile unit that goes to schools to let students know there are good jobs locally that don’t necessarily require a college degree.  Harris said they hope to send that out around southwest Arkansas in the fall.  Harris called on Dr. Christine Holt of UAHT to talk about some small-business entrepreneur programs they offer.  He also talked about efforts to make Hempstead County a “work ready” community.

Harris said if there is a down side to economic development locally is that the population is shrinking in southwest Arkansas and that affects the workforce as well.

Harris took some questions from the audience.  One dealt with the apparent shortage of housing.  Harris said they are indeed looking at it.  He noted Conway has had some success in looking at zoning codes and we might also consider smaller lots for more affordable housing.

The Lions Club greatly enjoyed the economic development update from Harris.