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Airport, new Interstate 540 keep NW Arkansas strong.

The economy in Northwest Arkansas perked right along during the past: year, bolstered even more by the opening of Interstate 540 between Alma and Fayetteville and of the new regional airport.

"We're seeing folks from northwest Arkansas here, and we're up there," says Billy Dooley, president of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce. "Folks are: coming down [to Fort Smith] that never would have thought of driving down."

Dooley has other good news, also, including the recent announcement that C. Bean Transport Inc. would move its headquarters from Amity to Fort Smith. C. Bean, which operates 300 tracks and 600 trailers, broke ground Sept. 3 on a $7.6 million complex.

By mid-October, Beverly Enterprises is expected to begin moving into its new $40 million headquarters, vacating some 30 locations it currently uses around Fort Smith. That's 115,000-SF of office space for which Dooley says the chamber already has leads for prospective tenants.

Construction has begun on a new $35 million civic center and one of the city's hospitals, St. Edward Mercy Health Network, has started construction of a new $75 million complex, the first of three planned projects.

Moving north up the interstate, Fayetteville recently landed its first tenant at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park. Interface Computers LLC is expected to close on its property in January and construction should commence afterwards.

That news come shortly after the city won a $193,340 grant from the Economic Development of Arkansas Fund Commission for infrastructure improvements at the park.

"That's really a significant milestone and a very important thing," says Jim Crider, economic development director for the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. "As the land sells, that ... will provide money in and of itself to continue the project" without borrowing money.

Springdale stands at the crossroads for the region, since many travelers must pass through the city on their way to the new Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Perry Webb, president of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, says it's evident that the relocation of the region's passenger service from Fayetteville to Benton County is pumping up business, although it's still early.

"It's tough to document that in the short-term," he explains. "Our barometers are the [advertising and promotion] tax and sales tax revenue, so it takes some time to build numbers. But the bottom line is we actually can see" an improvement in business.

No Downturn Foreseen

In Rogers, Raymond Burns is glad his Rogers Area Chamber of Commerce is out of the industrial building business after having helped market three such facilities in the past year. The most recent transaction was the sale of the 287,000-SF Daisy Manufacturing Co. plant to Euro United Corp.,which makes plastic furnishings.

That deal helped land a new tourist attraction in downtown Rogers, Burns notes, because the Daisy museum is moving into the old American National Bank building.

"We're created a tourist attraction and we're in the process of creating an advertising and promotion commission," Burns says, referring to plans to ask for a 1 percent hotel-motel room tax.

For the Bentonville/Bella Vista area, chamber president Curt Loyd says residential and commercial real estate continues to do well.

"We continue to have very positive and dynamic growth in our housing market and also in our commercial market," Loyd says. "It is a blessing to have Wal-Mart, our premiere corporation, in the community because obviously that's attracting a large number of vendor partners to our area.

"That," Loyd continues, "enables our commercial parks to continue to grow."

Loyd doesn't foresee a downturn for 2000.

"I can't see it slowing down any," he says. "Of course, Interstate 540's opening has had some effect on transportation and commuting back and forth from Interstate 40."

Bentonville also expects to benefit from the new distribution center Wal-Mart is building. Work began in 1998 on the 1.2 million-SF center, which eventually will employ 600 to 700 people.

Siloam Springs business leaders are happy that they were able to retain DaySpring, the Christian greeting-card maker. Previously owned by Cooke Communication of Chicago, the operation was put: on the market earlier this year.

Paul Joseph, president of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce, says the city learned its lesson after losing Clark/Delco, a pressure-washer manufacturer in the 1980s.

"When we heard that ... Cooke Communication of Chicago was selling [DaySpring], we stayed with the whole process and made sure that whoever bought it would keep it in Siloam Springs."

Ultimately, the company, which employs about 400 people, was purchased by Hallmark Cards of Kansas City.

"We feel very fortunate to have Hallmark," Joseph says. To lose that company "would have been devastating."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Economic Development
Author:May, Patricia
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Sep 27, 1999
Previous Article:Southwest Arkansas begins to attract some growth.
Next Article:West LR Mall May Open in 2003.

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