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West Memphis poised to lead in future economy

As the U.S. economy slowly begins its road to recovery, leaders in West Memphis, Arkansas are looking back on a surprisingly good year for economic development in 2010 and forward to more of the same in 2011.

ai???Weai??i??ve had industrial expansion and new construction in retail,ai??? said Ward Wimbish, the cityai??i??s Economic Development Director. ai???Our community college has received significant federal grants that strengthen our ability to train a competitive workforce. In 2010, we continued to anchor our position as a regional player. In 2011, our eyes are on the national and global picture.

Several key developments from 2010 indicate the Northeastern Arkansas cityai??i??s star may be on the rise. Topping the cityai??i??s economic news for 2010 was the announcement of a $44 million expansion by Awesome Products of its two locations in West Memphis.

Awesome Products, a California-based manufacturer of laundry detergent, fabric softener and household bleach, has gone from 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space in 2002 to breaking 1 million square feet by the end of this year, making it the largest manufacturer in eastern Arkansas.

Owner and president L.D. Hardas plans even more expansion. ai???We are fortunate to have the resources in place here in Arkansas in which to continue to grow our business,ai??? he said. ai???This region is perfect ai??i?? an available skilled workforce, proximity to key distribution points, quality infrastructure and collaboration among private and public entities.ai???

West Memphis leaders have been focusing on developing the cityai??i??s potential as a logistics powerhouse for years. The completion in 2009 of the South Loop to Port Road in West Memphis opened up more than 2,000 acres of industrially zoned land, creating one of the only truly intermodal sites in the Mid-South, Wimbish said. The loop provides industries quick access to the Mississippi River, rail and two major interstate highways. All of this makes West Memphis an even more attractive site selection choice for logistics and distribution operations.

Ready access, infrastructure and the granting in 2008 of Foreign Trade Zone status to 340 acres of prime industrial land in the city are all keys to enabling West Memphis to realize its potential as a national and global player in the industrial and logistics arena, Wimbish says.

On the retail front, October brought the announcement of plans for a 29,340-square-foot retail center, The Marketplace at West Memphis. The fact that the news came during a time of little or no retail construction activity across the Mid-South is proof that the city is full of untapped potential, Wimbish says.

With property taxes roughly half of what they are in nearby Memphis, and utility rates about 25 percent lower, he says West Memphis should top the location lists for businesses looking to start or expand in the Mid-South. But the quality of the local workforce ai??i?? thanks in large part to Mid-South Community College – is another big plus, he says.

MSCCai??i??s progressive workforce training strategies make it a regular recipient of federal funding. MSCCai??i??s Workforce Technology Center is a technical teaching facility that trains area students and residents on everything from robotics and welding to diesel technology and programmable logic controls. The center is the home to more than $2 million worth of high-tech equipment and has a leading numeric control machine operator-training program.

Part of the five-college Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium (ADTEC), MSCC will soon break ground soon on the $6 million ADTEC Biodiesel Technology Center on the North Campus. The 31,000-square foot facility will include a biofuel engine testing facility and fuel and oil analysis laboratories that will support adoption of biofuels by the transportation industry. In 2010, the school was awarded nearly $1 million in US Department of Labor funds to enhance diesel technology training, and an create a four-year degree opportunity on the West Memphis campus.

Also in 2010, MSCC landed another $3,391,053 from the labor department to establish an aviation technology program in West Memphis. The grant is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Infrastructure, access and potential notwithstanding, city leaders know that putting West Memphis on the international logistics and industrial map wonai??i??t happen on its own. Wimbish is actively pursuing national brokers face to face and through social media and has made six trips to China in order to get his city on the radar screen of Chinese investors and business leaders.

ai???The ground is shifting for the national and global economies daily,ai??? he says. ai???Whether the dust finally settles or not, weai??i??ve got all the pieces in place to make West Memphis a viable competitor in the economy of the future.ai???

Ward Wimbish
Director, Economic Development
wimbish@westmemphis.com
870-732-7500





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