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The secret is out: Northwest Arkansas industry provides base for new companies, expansions.

WHILE FLYING BETWEEN Atlanta and Dallas two weeks ago, Glenn Fast explained to a passenger he'd just met why northwest Arkansas was such a great place to live.

Fast, a former Boston businessman, used to receive strange looks when people discovered he voluntarily moved to Harrison to start a consulting firm in 1984.

But, thanks largely to the publicity Arkansas has received during the past year, no one stares now.

"People don't ask me why I moved to Arkansas anymore," Fast says. "It literally just stopped."

Fast, now a manufacturing representative and a member of the Industrial Development Committee at the Harrison Chamber of Commerce, is doing his part to promote the area.

"I tell them that if they are looking at investing ... now is the time to come," he says.

Still, Fast says he has mixed feelings about sharing information on northwest Arkansas.

"Unfortunately, the rest of the world is finding northwest Arkansas with me," he says.

Statistics prove that.

For instance, in Rogers during the past five years, an estimated 3,616 new jobs have been created and $378.5 million invested because of new and expanded companies.

In Washington County, where Fayetteville and Springdale are located, 1992 building permits increased by almost 20 percent. Commercial developments jumped from 34 permits in 1991 to 46 in 1992 -- a $13 million value.

Housing starts followed. There were 356 new units in 1992 -- a $30 million value.

Such impressive numbers aren't exclusive to Washington County.

Northwest Arkansas has experienced a business boom based on its tourism industry and thanks to existing companies.

The effect of tourism in such places as Huntsville in Madison County and Harrison is evident. There is everything from new restaurants such as the Shoney's Restaurant in Harrison to new reception halls such as the Faubus House in Huntsville.

Of course, there are the ever-present corporate giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. that have made northwest Arkansas famous.

What is not as obvious is the number of new businesses that have sprung up as part of a support system to the existing larger companies.

"How do you keep up with what's going on?" is a question often asked of Carol Bennett Lindsey at the Northwest Arkansas Council in Fayetteville.

"It's impossible," Lindsey says. "It really is. You can't imagine the change that's occurred here in 30 years."

Lindsey cites an impressive 139 percent growth in Washington and Benton counties over those 30 years.

She says many of the new businesses "are simply the people who start with an idea and go with it."

Like Fast, they are people who have an idea and decide northwest Arkansas may not be a bad place to try it.

Out in the Boondocks

In the 1992 Metro Report for Inc., University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Professor Richard Smith is included in an article headlined, "The Inc. 1992 Report on the Boondocks."

Smith started a company in 1988 to produce electronic atlases. He is one of a handful of people profiled who have chosen to run their companies outside of metropolitan areas.

Smith chose Fayetteville.

"You can live a nice civilized life here and still do things like software development," Smith says.

He adds, "You can probably have a more personal relationship with your banker here."

The comparatively low cost of living in northwest Arkansas also can help young companies survive the lean times.

"If we had been in Los Angeles, for example, I don't know that we would have made it," Smith says.

That is not to say northwest Arkansas is perfect.

Smith found he could not market his product from Fayetteville. He had to seek TABULAR DATA OMITTED a California-based company instead.

And Fast says both air and land transportation need work, although "these things are on the drawing board."

Fast says Smith is correct that one can have a personal relationship with one's banker, but he finds he must go to Little Rock banks for some commercial transactions.

Nothing seems to be stopping new businesses from opening, however.

Support companies to the booming poultry and trucking industries are continually coming to the area.

Plastics Research Corp. of California and Remcon Plastics Inc. of Pennsylvania are coming to Springdale to build freezers for Tyson.

In addition to new companies locating in the area, there have been expansions with existing companies.

Superior Industries International Inc., a Fayetteville-based aluminum wheel manufacturer, recently announced plans to invest $30 million to expand its plant by 285,000 SF. That will create 350 jobs.

Northwest Arkansas residents seem to know what they have.

Says Lindsey, "I just wish everyone in the state is doing as well as we are up here."
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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 19, 1993
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