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Local companies commit to park: five tenants plan move to NLR site.

WITH FOUR COMPAnies committed, a fifth on the way, and the start of construction just weeks away, it appears the North Little Rock I-440 Industrial Park soon will become what its proponents have envisioned for years.

While long on dreams, the project also has had no shortage of trust, confidence and -- maybe most importantly -- patience.

The four companies committed to moving into the park are RAM Industries and two closely related firms, RDC Sales and Lamination Systems Inc., all in Little Rock, and Audio International in North Little Rock.

A fifth tenant, an optical lens grinding company, also has committed but hasn't yet announced its intentions, says Stephanie Milligan, vice president of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. She declined to name the company.

Milligan, the spearhead behind North Little Rock's latest quest for jobs, doesn't lack for information to tout the park to prospective tenants. While she doesn't view Little Rock as its competitor, the selling points for North Little Rock -- at least some of them -- are clearly something its neighbor to the south can't offer.

They include:

* The fact that the industrial park has been granted status by the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission as an enterprise zone.

* The affordability of the park, where the cost of an acre ranges from $12,000 to a maximum of $18,000.

* Cheaper utility rates. Milligan says industry rates from the North Little Rock Electric Department are about 8 percent lower than the business rates paid in Little Rock. The lack of franchise fees makes other utilities such as natural gas and the telephone about 5 percent lower, she says.

* All utilities are underground.

* Easy access to Interstates 440 and 40, the Little Rock Regional Airport and the Port of Little Rock on the Arkansas River.

The key to the park's successes so far, Milligan says, is the early commitment of RAM Industries, RDC Sales and Audio International, which aligned themselves with the park when there was no park.

Receiving federal matching funds was dependent upon such early commitments, Milligan says.

"So, recruitment was locally aimed," she says. "We could meet with those companies more frequently and readily than with out-of-state companies. Those three companies were vital to the project.

"It's difficult to talk to companies out of state about an industrial park that doesn't yet exist. Many of those needed to expand immediately, whereas the local companies couldn't expand at all at their present sites."

One of those companies was preparing to move out of the area when the prospect of moving into the industrial park was presented. "We've been able to retain companies in central Arkansas," Milligan says. Another company did bow out because it couldn't delay its expansion until the industrial park opened.

"There were a lot of negotiations, of course," Milli-gan says of the recruitment process.

Both the park and the companies seeking to locate in it had to meet an assortment of federal and state guidelines for economic development assistance.

"But I don't think it was a hard sell at all," she says. "We just had to offer them a decent product."

Even so, getting the park to this point took 18 months longer than Milligan expected, she says.

Along with building a road to the site and starting construction, the next step is to refine a marketing plan and advertise nationally.

"We're not competing with Little Rock, but rather with other states offering major incentives," Milligan said, adding she just recently returned from a meeting of the Economic Development Institute, a gathering of about 350 industry recruiters from the United States and Canada.

"That was one hungry group," she adds. "They have very sophisticated marketing plans and they offer some major incentives. They're all hungry for jobs, and they're going the extra mile to get them. But we can't offer our heart and soul because it's not going to benefit us in the long run."

The Board of Directors for The North Little Rock Industrial Corp.

Hal Matthews, Hal C. Matthews Co.

Henry Scales, Arkla Gas Co.

Stephanie Milligan, NLR Chamber of Commerce

Todd Larson, City of NLR

Ben Wyatt, Pulaski Technical College

Moneica West, Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. (recently replaced Randy Spann)

James Smith, Superintendent, NLR School District

Bruce Engstrom, CPA (recently replaced Bob McNeice)
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Title Annotation:North Little Rock Industrial Park
Author:Steed, Stephen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 23, 1993
Previous Article:The making of an industrial park: a 262-acre crop of plants begins to emerge after many trials.
Next Article:North Little Rock industry profiles.

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