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Caught in the middle; Texarkana lures industry on both sides of the border.

Robert E. "Swede" Lee has spent 29 of his 55 years on one side or the other of the state line at Texarkana.

He is part Texan.

He is part Arkansan.

He is 100 percent Texarkanan, first as the legendary football coach at Arkansas High School and, for the past 11 years, as chief executive officer of the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce.

Appropriately, the chamber office is located on State Line Avenue, which divides the city in half.

That's where the division ends, Lee says.

Other than an annual grudge match between the local high school football teams, competition between Texans and Arkansans is counter-productive.

And hard to find.

"Competition between the two cities would not be in the best interest of either one," Lee says. "That's an attitude that has been in place for many years.

"Competition is a moot point because no matter which side of the street you're on, you employ people from both sides. That's why the industrial development program operates out of the chamber. We serve both cities."

Terry Youngblood grew up in Texarkana.

Youngblood, who starred for Lee on 1973 and '74 Arkansas High teams, says the Arkansas-Texas debate no longer rages.

"It's a pretty even-keeled deal," says Youngblood, who works for the Dennis Young Insurance Co. on the Arkansas side. "The Texas side might have more industry, but as long as the jobs are here, that's what matters."

Nobody on the Arkansas side of the line complained when a company relocated to Texarkana, Texas, from Memphis, Tenn., two years ago.

Likewise, there were no Texas complaints about two companies building plants in the Maxwell Industrial Park on the Arkansas side.

Industrial development has been a boon to both sides of the border. While parts of Texas and Arkansas suffered economically in the 1980s, the Texarkana economy remained stable.

"The economy has been very, very sound for the past 10 or 11 years," Lee says. "We haven't had a year yet where there was a decline in retail sales ... The average economic growth has been about 7.5 percent annually."

A major employer on both sides of the border is the health care industry.

An 80-bed rehabilitation hospital that will employ about 120 people is under construction and scheduled to open late next year.

Meanwhile, St. Michael Hospital will begin construction on a $116-million complex that will include a hospital, a rehabilitation-skilled nursing unit and a medical office complex.

St. Michael now is located on the Arkansas side.

Its new location will be on the Texas side.

"It used to be a big deal -- Arkansas side vs. Texarkana side," Youngblood says. "They said Texas had the car dealerships and Arkansas had the liquor stores. But there is not as much of that anymore.

"Even the football game was low-key."

For the record, Arkansas High defeated Texas High for the third consecutive year.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Leadership; business and industry in Texarkana
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 23, 1991
Previous Article:All grown up: economic development, university growth allow Jonesboro to 'mature.' (economic development in Jonesboro, Arkansas)
Next Article:Remembering Mister Witt.

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