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Jonesboro becoming boom town for industry.

More Than 1,000 Jobs Created and $115 Million Invested in Past Year

GEMALA NORTH AMERIca Corp. was considering a site for its new manufacturing facility when it found an unlikely businessman promoting the city of Jonesboro.

The businessman was Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who met with firm executives when he was then lieutenant governor acting in Bill Clinton's stead.

"We were most impressed," says Sidney Kulek, executive vice president with Gemala, parent company of Trailmobile Inc. "We found that he had been a businessman in the past. The manhood test for any business person is your ability to make payroll, not to spend people's money."

Kulek says Trailmobile was considering three other states before finally selecting Arkansas and Jonesboro.

A similar chain of events was repeated over and over for Jonesboro in the past year.

There were 12 expansions or new plants announced in 1992 with investments of $1 million or more. Altogether, 1,126 new jobs were announced in Jonesboro last year. Businesses have spent or will spend more than $115 million for expansions and new plants.

Some examples include:

* Ringier America Inc., in commercial printing, is expanding its facility by 250,000 SF, which should add about 200 jobs. Ringier will invest $60 million.

* Penn Racquet Sports, which closed its plant in 1986, is reopening the facility after spending $8 million to update it. Penn will employ about 150.

* Arkansas Glass Container Corp. is spending $4.5 million on an expansion that will add 35 jobs.

* Kraft General Foods Inc.-Post Cereals Division is planning a $4 million expansion that will add 55 jobs.

* Hytrol Conveyor Co., which makes power belt conveyors, is expanding its plant by 50,000 SF and adding about 35 jobs. The total investment is $3.5 million.

* Trailmobile's 200,000-SF semitrailer facility will employ 250 in the first year and 100 more in the second. Trailmobile's total investment will be $20 million.

Another reason Trailmobile chose Jonesboro is because the city and its leaders "are very pro-business," Kulek says.

"Arkansas is a very pro-active business state," he adds. "The fact that the state has right-to-work laws was very important to us.

"And," Kulek adds, "the Chamber of Commerce is very active."

"Jonesboro has a track record, since the early 1950s, of attracting industries," says Henry Jones, president of the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce.

Proximity to Memphis Helps

Jonesboro has four industrial parks. The oldest, where General Electric Co. and Riceland Foods Inc. are located, has been at capacity since the late 1950s.

The Airport Industrial Park, where Farr Co., Associated Plastics Inc. and Colson Caster Corp. are located, is also full. The Jonesboro Industrial Park, also near the airport, is almost at capacity.

The newest, Craighead Technology Park, has 760 acres. More than $7 million was invested in the park's infrastructure, Jones says.

BP Chemical Inc., which makes fiberglass reinforced panels for RV siding, and Swift-Eckrich Inc., which processes Butterball turkey breasts, are there. Trailmobile is building in the park and 3M Co. has bought land there but has not begun construction.

Jonesboro's proximity to Memphis is a major factor for drawing industries, says John Troutt Jr., chairman of Jonesboro Unlimited, an organization created to attract business to the area.

Jones says Jonesboro's principal competition has been Jackson, Tenn.; Tupelo, Miss.; and Dyersburg, Tenn. The chamber president notes that Jonesboro is almost never in competition with another Arkansas city for a business.

Troutt says, "Some of the reasons we have attracted businesses are our industrial facilities, our utilities have good facilities and favorable rates, and Arkansas State |University~ plays a big role, too.

"We have business-friendly city and county government. And then, also, our quality of life is important, although I doubt that it is a determiner for a company to come here."

A Turning Point

A major turning point for the city was the creation of Jonesboro Unlimited in 1985. That was about the time Crane Co., a major employer, ceased operations and Penn Racquet announced it would close its plant.

"We used every means we could, including city and county government, to do whatever it takes to make things attractive to a prospect," Jones says.

Troutt says the economy had become stagnant, and Jonesboro Unlimited "was a way to take Jonesboro and Craighead County forward."

The one requirement for membership is a $1,000 annual contribution. About 100 people and groups have joined, which means $100,000 a year used for economic development.

"A lot of people want to do positive things," Troutt says. "This became a way for us to get together and decide a course of action. We worked through the chamber and the governmental agencies to do things, such as acquire Technology Park and work out how it would be funded."

Jonesboro had one bit of bad news late in '92. FMC Corp. announced in November it would relocate its manufacturing operations from Jonesboro to plants in Stephenville, Texas, and Hoopeston, Ill.

By this summer the plant, with its 140 jobs, will be closed. Some employees have transferred to the Texas facility.

"FMC is in the position of having excess manufacturing capacity around the country," says Jerry Price, human resources manager at FMC. "They are trying to utilize that capacity by consolidating manufacturing. That's the reason that these products are being moved out of the state and the plant in Jonesboro will be closed."

But the city is in the final competition for a major employer that could bring about 500 jobs.

"We've been working with them for most of the year," Troutt says. "And we have a couple of other companies that are talking with us about plant locations."

Jonesboro's Latest Industry Arrivals

* Ringier America Inc., 200 jobs.

* Penn Racquet Sports, 150 jobs.

* Arkansas Glass Container Corp., 35 jobs.

* Kraft General Foods Inc.-Post Cereals Division, 55 jobs.

* Hytrol Conveyor Co., 35 jobs.

* Trailmobile Inc., 350 jobs.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:expansion of businesses in Jonesboro, Arkansas
Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 15, 1993
Words:982
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