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Stamps Licked, Other Towns Adhere to ACE Program.

WHILE SOME COMMUNIties in southwest Arkansas paint a rosy picture for economic development, the outlook for Stamps is grim.

"We'd like to attract anything we can get in here. We're at a disadvantage because, when an industry says they want to relocate, every county in the state starts fighting for them ... Everybody runs at that piece of pie and offers them land, an industrial park and tax cuts," Paul Nipper, president of Bodcaw Bank and a board member of the Stamps Chamber of Commerce, said.

One incentive that Stamps can't offer and doesn't have the resources to create is an industrial park, Nipper said.

"If you've got a group that puts in that much money and offers it to an industry, it will be a long time before they realize any benefit from it," he said.

Part of the problem, Nipper said, is that a substantial part of the population of Stamps is on public assistance and the workforce is weak with an unemployment rate of about 8 percent.

Over the years, Stamps' business leaders met with the Arkansas Department of Economic Development (ADED) and ran the defunct Lafayette County Industrial Development Committee.

"But it's almost like beating a dead horse," Nipper said. "We have met, we have done this and pretty soon you just get tired of spinning your wheels. We don't have enough to offer."

But there is hope for Stamps.

Through ADED's Arkansas Communities of Excellence, ACE, communities undergo a strategic planning process to identify opportunities, overcome weaknesses and emphasize strengths.

"We encourage communities to stand together and look at local community development issues to overcome weaknesses they might have," said Lori Harlan, ADED team leader for community and business development.

Harlan said ACE helps find state, federal and private partners to assist in the process and offers tax breaks and other incentives for job creation projects in high unemployment areas.

"Stamps is not a participant in ACE right now," Harlan said.

With an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, Camden is one community that looks to ACE as an economic savior.

"We're one of the ACE communities, so we have online access to projects that are available and we can make a proposal if we have an interest in the project," said Michael Strotheide, president of Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development, which formed in April. "They have a depository of information about the area that they can show prospects."

Foremost among Strotheide's challenges is the loss of industry and people over the last several years.

"We're taking a look at our asset base, which is people and skills," he said. "We've got a 200,000-SF facility available... General Dynamics was there but they moved to Arizona."

The loss of the General Dynamics outfit, which employed up to 1,100, left Camden with a large, first-class building and many good people in the area should any company want to move in, Strotheide said.

But the loss of industry hurts.

"We have had a decline in population by several thousand in the last several years," Strotheide said before his optimism won out. "But our unemployment rate was much higher than it is today.

"I look at this as an opportunity for us. We're coming out of a cycle where we've had some downsizing and a loss of jobs. I think we're ready for a

turnaround."

Part of that turnaround entails expanding Camden's industrial park with public funds.

"I think we'll wind up with a business park. I wouldn't conceive of it as just industrial," he said. "I think there's a lot of light manufacturing that might go into a business park. We have all the ingredients and it's going to take some work to develop a recipe.

"In conjunction with Congressman Dickey we recently hosted the Arkansas Defense Expo 2000. We had more than 50 exhibitors and all the major defense players' representatives, including Boeing, Raytheon, Litton Industries and Lockheed-Martin."

El Dorado and Mena are faring well in their attempts to bring in more industry, too.

Currently under construction in El Dorado is the country's largest merchant energy plant, said Sherrel Johnson, president and CEO of the city's Chamber of Commerce.

The $1.1 billion, 2,720-megawatt project is a joint venture between Panda Energy of Dallas and California-based Calpine Corp. that will employ between 800 and 1,200 during the two- to three-year construction phase.

And with a 4 percent unemployment rate, there aren't enough available workers for the project, so most of the construction workers will be trucked in.

With an Entergy substation nearby and an agreement with the Union County Water Conservation Board to use 17 to 20 million gallons of water daily from the Ouachita River, El Dorado is ready for the energy plant.

And ConAgra, the city's largest employer, will add Butterball chicken to its production line. The expansion will add 65 new jobs.

Driving industrial expansion in Mena is the area's airport, home to 15 different companies that collectively employ about 300.

Dodson International, the world's second-largest airplane parts dealer, is building two new hangars and will relocate its headquarters from Ottawa, Kan., to the Mena Airport, said Lynn Oglesby, executive vice president of the Mena/ Polk County Chamber of Commerce.

And with the recent addition of a 6,000-foot runway to land unloaded 747s, the airport is ripe for more growth.

But to add diversity to the area's economy, Oglesby said, Mena recruits retirees and maintains a steady growth to keep up the area's infrastructure.

"We have a brand new 80-acre industrial park," Oglesby said. "We've been working on it for three years getting it ready for industry to come look at us. We want to recruit the high-tech, computer-based small businesses to the area.

"We're an ACE community, which means that when industry looks to Arkansas we have all our ducks in a row to make sure they look here."

And the ACE program ensures that companies look elsewhere, too.

"If you want to plant flowers you have to have the bed ready," said Johnson of El Dorado. "You have to be ready to recruit prospects. More often than not, when a company is looking to locate you've got a very short time frame. If you can meet their needs more quickly and you're ready for that then you've got a much better chance."
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Article Details
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Author:O'REILLY, BRENDAN
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 25, 2000
Words:1054
Previous Article:No Major Projects, But a Lot f Expansion Under Way in NW.
Next Article:High Tech, Low Tech, No Tech in Southeast Arkansas.


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