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More than a presidential cradle.

Hope, Birthplace of Clinton, Becomes a Hotbed of Small-Town Industrialization

WHEN PRESIDENT Clinton said he believed in a place called Hope, he was only parroting what manufacturers have been saying for five years.

Hope, the birthplace of the president, has added 1,201 net manufacturing jobs since late 1987 -- the largest gain of any small town in Arkansas, according to the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp. The impact has been tremendous on the inviting southwest Arkansas town of 10,000.


Clinton's election has further stoked the furnace of Hope's development, vastly increasing the city's name recognition in industrial circles.

"We're going after jobs that increase the average hourly wage," says Ivan Baker, president of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp., which is trying to build on an already strong industrial base. "We've been very fortunate. Our existing industries are growing."

Most of Hope's manufacturing boom came from 1989-1991. SMI Joist expanded in 1989, adding 240 jobs to its steel joist operation. Hudson Foods Inc. hired 250 new poultry workers at its Hope plant in 1991 and later expanded the facilities to add another 500 workers. Champion Auto Parts tacked on an extra 100 jobs the same year.

Fourteen new plants also have come on board with 391 jobs during that time frame. The newcomers range from Honeycutt Printing Co. with five jobs in 1987 to Seward Luggage Co. and its 100 new jobs in 1989, which was later pared to 70 jobs.

Hope's 37 manufacturers are highly diversified, creating more than 100 products such as carpet padding, apparel, jigsaw puzzles, cryogenic vessels, loudspeakers and English muffins.

Two more small manufacturers recently began operations in Hope, adding about 15 jobs.

Commemorative Etching Inc. is one of the newcomers, producing decorative metal stampings, platings and etchings for guns, bows and specialty items. CSI Industries, which was founded in Newport, also opened a plant at the Hope Industrial Park to produce regionally distributed fertilizer from chicken by-products.

"Manufacturing has provided a much stronger economic base for everyone in the community," Hope City Manager David Meriwether says. "It's not exploding, but it's had a steady growth rate."

Professional Help

One of the primary reasons for the recent success is the creation of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp., a private, non-profit organization supported with public funds that operates as the county's marketing arm. Only 20 communities in the state have their own professional development agencies.

Unlike chambers of commerce -- the typical leaders in industrial recruitment -- Baker's group is free from the encumbrances of festivals and special events.

Baker assists companies with export opportunities and has helped to establish "quality management" programs at 18 area companies.

The corporation also has formed the Hope-Clinton Team for Development, a group trying to help the city capitalize on Clinton's fame. The team is working with the other "Clinton cities" -- Fayetteville, Hot Springs and Little Rock -- to develop strategy.

Times were tough in Hope from the mid-1970s to the mid-'80s. A large carpet mill and two mobile home manufacturers closed, taking a big bite out of the local job market.

"Literally for a decade you had no manufacturing growth in Hope, Arkansas," Baker says.

The economic development corporation was born of frustration in 1986, and manufacturing growth has been pretty steady since its early successes in 1987. However, last year presented a glitch in progress.

"With the recession, there was a slowdown in activity," Baker says. "There has been a lot of apprehension. I've never seen so many good projects put on hold due to economic situations. This year, it's picked up considerably in terms of inquiries. Our target market is primarily plastics, fabricated metals, a lot of wood and paper products and food processing."

The Clinton connection isn't a conscious motivation for industries to consider moving to Hope, Baker says, but it is a subtle factor.

"The most difficult thing in trying to market a county is name recognition," Baker says. "Now the world knows about Hope, Arkansas. We've been advertising in trade journals, a lot of direct mail and telemarketing. We primarily coattail on the efforts of the Arkansas Industrial Development Corp."

Much to Offer

From the viewpoint of industry, Hope has a lot going for it.

City-owned Hope Water & Light offers one of the lowest industrial electric rates in the Mid-South, and that's advantageous for recruitment of energy-intensive manufacturing operations. Hope also has a large publicly owned industrial park, a technical college, mainline rail and a full-time arts council.

City government leadership is very stable. Hope is one of the few small towns in the state with a city manager form of government and has had only five city managers in 35 years.

Hope's population is small, but the town is well-located. About 132,000 people reside within 30 miles of the city and Interstate 30 runs through town.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau claims Hope's population actually fell during the 1980s, collections on the city's 1 percent sales tax rose by more than 9 percent from 1991-92. The tax proceeds have improved the waste water system, created and resurfaced many streets, provided leverage for government matching grants, expanded the park system and improved the youth baseball program.

Not bad for a one-celebrity town.
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Title Annotation:growth of Hope, Arkansas
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 19, 1993
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