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Whatta place at the heart of the Arkansas River Valley, Russellville is thriving.

Think of Russellville and you think of Feltner's Whatta Burger Drive Inn, one of the most famous places in Arkansas to have a hamburger.

You think of Arkansas Power & Light Co.'s Arkansa Nuclear One, so visible from Interstate 40.

You think of the Arkansas River, which runs alongside the city of just more than 20,000 people in Pope County.

But there is more to Russellville than good hamburgers, nuclear power and the river.

"We think we have everything industry wants or needs," says Mac Van Horn, chairman of the Russellville Chamber of Commerce's industrial contact team and a member of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. "We have rail, highway, interstate and barge traffic. The strongest suit is the attitude of the people here. They are pro-industrial development."

It shows.

Eight Fortune 500 companies have facilities in the city. There are more than 40 manufacturers in all.

Tyson Foods Inc., Dow Chemical U.S.A., Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and International Paper have plants at Russellville.

Bridgestone/Firestone is expanding.

Tyson already has done so.

"Most additional jobs come from the expansion of existing industries," says Charles Blanchard, president of the Russellville Chamber of Commerce and First National Bank of Russellville.

Blanchard is coming to the end of his term as chamber president. He will be replaced by a Tyson executive, Paul Whitley.

Blanchard, a North Little Rock native, moved to Russellville a decade ago.

He has no intentions of leaving.

Blanchard says there are several reasons for Russellville's stellar economic performance.

"First, the food industry is not quite as recession prone as other industries," he says. "When times get tough and two people in a household are working, the use of processed foods is greater.

"And the expansion of the poultry industry has really paid off."

Poultry Power

There are almost 7,000 manufacturing jobs in the Russellville area with ConAgra Frozen Foods, a subsidiary of food giant ConAgra Inc., and Tyson accounting for more than one-third of those.

"The poultry and prepared food plants have affected the whole northwest portion of the state," Blanchard says.

Just ask Springdale.

Russellville also has benefited from the Tyson Management Development Center and a Tyson processing plant at Dardanelle, across the river in Yell County.

Tyson and ConAgra employ more than 1,000 workers each in the area.

Jim Diamond, former general manager of Dow Chemical's Russellville operation, says a productive labor force -- drawn from a 40-mile radius -- is a key to attracting industry.

Transportation also is a drawing card. A railroad line and I-40 bisect the city. A municipal airport is located close to industrial facilities. So is the barge-rail terminal at the Port of Dardanelle.

A "spec" building designed to attract yet another industry is under construction on the east side of Russellville. Van Horn Construction Inc. is erecting the 40,000-SF building.

"It will attract more prospective industries to the area than any other item," says Mike Miller, co-owner of Van Horn Construction.

"We've done this on two occasions and been successful both times," Van Horn says. "We're high on having an acceptable existing building. It brings a lot of industrial traffic. We've had occasions when industrial prospects have come in because of a 'spec' building, liked what they saw and moved here at another location" even when the "spec" facility did not fit the company's requirements.

"We've had a little dry spell in attracting industry," Miller says. "But we're seeing some of the local industries grow, which is just as important to us. That's the easiest way to attract jobs."

Cases in point:

* The Bridgestone/Firestone expansion.

* International Paper's expansion of its container division.

* An expansion of Sugar Creek Foods of Russellville Inc., a manufacturer of yogurt mixes.

* Tyson's multimillion-dollar investments in its Management Development Center following the purchase of a building from another company.

"Thank goodness for existing industry," Van Horn says.

Quality Management

A quality management program was started two years ago by representatives of the chamber, Arkansas Tech University and the Arkansas Quality Management Task Force, which is sponsored in part by the AIDC.

The program teaches area residents how to conduct business in a way that improves the quality of products and services in manufacturing, government and education.

Betty LaGrone, the chamber's executive vice president, says the quality management movement began in the manufacturing sector and now includes service organizations.

"This movement is sweeping the country," she says. "It has been successful here. In fact, Tyson has voted to use the concept through its entire company."

Russellville is not entirely about industry.

Arkansas Tech has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students.

St. Mary's Regional Medical Center recently began a 40,000-SF expansion. St. Mary's opened a cancer center in 1988.

"Arkansas Tech has set new highs for enrollment the past 10 years," Blanchard says. "It's not growing a lot, but it certainly is making progress.

"We benefit greatly from having a university and a regional hospital. They bring in more middle-income, highly educated leaders than we would otherwise have."

Russellville has a population of 21,260. The unemployment rate is about 4 percent.

Van Horn has lived in Russellville for 28 years. He moved there from southern Illinois.

"I'm about a native," he says. "I'll stay here until I am. Russellville has it all."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Leadership; business and industry in Russelville, Arkansas
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 23, 1991
Previous Article:Tenants on the move.
Next Article:Pine Bluff: no. 333 - with a bullet.

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