Members of the Clark County Quorum Court entertained the annual report from the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County during their meeting Monday night.

Members of the Clark County Quorum Court entertained the annual report from the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County during their meeting Monday night.
According to Stephen Bell, president/CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce, 2017 was marked with continued job creation in Clark County as companies added workers in the county and the surrounding region.
 
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
Bell noted the unemployment rate in Clark County fell from a high of 4.6 percent in January to 3.6 percent in December.
“The county recorded its lowest unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in April,” said Bell.
On an annual basis, in the last six years the unemployment rate has fallen from a high of 10.4 percent in 2011 to 3.8 percent in 2017.
In addition, Bell noted the number of jobs in Clark County has increased from 8,762 in 2014 to 9,269 in 2017 for a total of 507 additional jobs.
Clark County recorded its highest monthly employment in September 2017 with 9,563 jobs being reported.
 
SALES TAX REVENUE
Bell reported that revenue from the county’s half-cent sales tax for economic development generated more than $1.5 million for the fourth straight year.
Revenue totals were $1.51 million for 2014, $1.57 million for 2015, $1.59 million for 2016 and $1.57 million for 2017.
Bell believes an increase in online shopping and a decline in enrollment at Henderson State University could be two factors that led to the slight decline in revenue from 2016 to 2017.
 
NEW CONSTRUCTION PERMITS
According to Bell, the number of new construction permits issued for single-family dwellings in Arkadelphia rose to 13 in 2017.
Only one permit was issued in 2014, while three permits were issued in 2015 and 2016 each.
A total of six new construction permits were issued for commercial properties in 2014. Three were given in 2015, six in 2016 and 16 in 2017.
 
SHANDONG SUN PAPER
Bell reported that the state’s largest economic development project got bigger in 2017 when Shandong Sun Paper announced an additional $500 million investment and 100 more jobs in its Sun Bio plant in Clark County.
“The move will bring the total investment to $1.8 billion and raise the expected employment to 350 people,” said Bell.
According to Bell, the increased investment came as executives changed strategy for the mill, originally planned to produce dissolving pulp used to make rayon.
“Sun Paper Chairman Li Hongxin decided the plant should produce linerboard, which is one of two types of paper that make up corrugated boxes. The changes also mean an increase use of raw materials, which is good news for timber owners,” said Bell, who added that the start of construction has been pushed to the end of 2018 or the start of 2019. “Sun Bio is resubmitting its air permit to reflect the change in product to linerboard,” Bell explained.
In addition, Bell reported that Sun Bio Project Manager Grace Yin makes monthly trips to Arkansas and Arkadelphia and Sun Paper Vice President and Deputy General Manager Guangdong Ying makes quarterly trips. A delegation from Sun Paper’s project team is due to visit in March.
Bell also reported the Economic Development Corporation completed the purchase of land for the Sun Bio mill site.
The plant, billed as one of the largest economic development projects in Arkansas history, was originally announced in April 2016. Former Deltic Timber president and CEO Ray Dillon has been hired as consultant.
 
ARKADELPHIA POULTRY PLANT
Pitman Farms of Fresno, California, purchased the Arkadelphia Poultry Plant for $2,340,000 from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
The company, which operates under the brand name Mary’s Free Range Chickens, planned to re-open the plant in March 2018. However, the recent downturn in chicken prices has caused the company to reevaluate its strategy.
The EDCCC invested $250,000 in equipment at the Hillstern plant and the equipment is still at the facility.
 
HITCO EXPANSION
HITCO Carbon Composites announced plans to increase its previously-announced capital investment at its Arkadelphia plant from $1.5 million to $15 million over the next two years and expand its workforce. The company added 10 new jobs in 2017 with 10 more planned in the coming months.
HITCO recently acquired new contracts with Delta Air Lines and Boeing.
 
SIPLAST
Siplast added more bulk storage tanks at its resin plant in the Clark County Industrial Park and added a new driveway. When a delivery was made to the Siplast Resin plant, the plant shut down for half a day while the truck was being unloaded.
The new driveway, which was completed just this week, will improve efficiency at the plant.
 
GEORGIA-PACIFIC
The Arkadelphia Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce worked with Georgia-Pacific to help promote a hiring event. The lumber and plywood mill at Gurdon is seeking to fill several positions.
 
CADDO RIVER FOREST PRODUCTS
Brett Bray, general manager of Caddo River Forest Products at Glenwood, said the new sawmill is beating production expectations and has 105 employees. He said the company plans to double production in 2018 and add another 50 employees.
 
CITY OF ARKADELPHIA WATER UTILITIES
The City of Arkadelphia completed a $7.5 million investment into the water and sewer department in 2017. The upgrade included the installation of a new water intake structure at the Ouachita River, which doubled the capacity of water the system can retrieve.
 
INDUSTRIAL PARK EXPANSION
The Clark County Industrial Council approved the purchase of about 43 acres of land from Danfoss for the Clark County Industrial Park.
The land is prime industrial property with highway frontage along U.S. Highway 67. The land will be purchased for $153,160 and provide an excellent piece of property for industrial recruitment.
 
INDUSTRIAL PROSPECTS IN 2017
The EDCCC submitted information to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission on five separate projects in 2017. The projects were Project Slash, Project View, Project Italy, Project Fencepost and Project Wolfpack.
One of those projects, Project Slash, resulted in a site visit and an incentive offer from the Governor’s Office and AEDC. However, a site was chosen in Louisiana due to its proximity to the refineries and the petroleum industry.
 
INTERMODAL AUTHORITY AND PUBLIC TRANSLOAD FACILITY
The Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority will begin construction of a rail spur this spring in the Clark County Industrial Park.
The Intermodal Authority has a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build the rail spur. The rail spur will serve both the Sun Bio mill and a public transload facility open to other companies in the area.
The Intermodal Authority received a second EDA grant worth $1.3 million in 2017. The funds will be used to build a cross dock, parking lot and driveway, which will be connected to the rail spur.
Union Pacific Railroad has begun design work on the two switches that will allow the rail spur to access the Union Pacific mainline.
 
COUNTY LANDFILL
Under the Memorandum of Understanding with Sun Paper, Clark County will provide a landfill. A 39-acre tract of land near the Sun Bio mill site has been identified and soil tests by Terracon have shown the land is an excellent location for a landfill. The EDCCC currently has an option on the property.
The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission is interested in issuing state bonds to pay for a Class III Commercial landfill that would be used for Sun Bio and other companies in Clark County. The landfill will cost about $10 million.
 
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Local officials met with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to review the three railroad crossings expected as part of the Sun Bio project. Steve Weston and his staff with the Arkansas Department of Transportation approved the plans for crossing U.S. Highway 67, McClellan Boulevard and Flave Road.
Highway Director Scott Bennett visited Arkadelphia in August and met with Clark County Judge Troy Tucker and Arkadelphia City Manager Gary Brinkley, Alliance Chairman Eric Hughes and Alliance President and CEO Stephen Bell. They discussed highway projects in the county, including the Ouachita River Bridge, widening of Pine Street and a truck bypass for Arkadelphia.

In addition, Bell noted his office participated in multiple ribbon cuttings, ground breaking, receptions and business after hours events in Arkadelphia, Gurdon and Caddo Valley.