Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Director Graycen Bigger gave several industry updates at the Intermodal’s May 24 board meeting.

Bigger reported that the new Emerson plant in Ash Flat has trained its first round of employee hires and started limited production in April. An official opening event is expected in September or October.

Bigger also updated the board that a new business, CF Steel, is expected to start production in Walnut Ridge in the fall. The Intermodal worked with the City of Walnut Ridge to negotiate the lease terms and incentives on the project. The company, which is expanding its operation from North Carolina, will employ 15-20 people to start.

It was also reported that several new sites have been added to the state’s site selection website. Bigger explained that the Agri Gro building in Pocahontas will be leased by Carter Cox Seed. She reported that the city will be receiving an increased rent amount for the building from the previous tenant, which can be reinvested in economic development efforts.

“There has been increased interest in the area, which along with inflated construction costs, has led to a shortage of industrial buildings,” Bigger said.

Bigger also stated that, while information is confidential, there had been a site visit to the area in May. She said she would give updates as able.

Also during the meeting, Bigger reported on the 2020 annual report, which has been distributed, and several recent presentations she has made on behalf of the Intermodal. It was also reported that all memberships have been paid for 2021.

In other business:

Bigger thanked Senator Boozman’s staff, who were present at the board meeting, for coordinating his recent tour of the area. In April and May, he visited all four counties. Stops included Emerson, Ozarka College, Clay County Electric Cooperative, the Pocahontas Airport, Black River Technical College and Williams Baptist University. He also hosted the I-57 update meeting for area leaders.

The new website, which is nearly complete, was previewed for board members. Once the website is complete, Bigger plans to use the design and photos to create other marketing materials, including a pop up banner and print materials.

Bigger gave an update on grant projects that are currently underway. She has also been in contact with Williams Baptist University regarding additional funds for their new USDA-certified meat processing facility project and is researching infrastructure funding for the City of Ash Flat and facility funding for Cave City. She also stated that she plans to submit an application to USDA for regional transportation planning.

An update was given on the Clay County Work Ready initiative and a luncheon, which was hosted in Corning on April 8 with Growing Corning Together and BRTC. This designation is a priority project for 2021.

Bigger thanked AEDC representatives for including the NEA Intermodal on this year’s Economic Development Week podcast in May.

It was reported that Bigger will attend the Environmental Training Workshop in June in Little Rock and Year 2 of the Community Development Institute in Conway Aug. 2-6. She also plans to attend the AEDCE annual conference, which will be in Jonesboro in August. The Intermodal will be a gold sponsor of the event, which will allow for two representatives to attend on behalf of the organization.

Bigger said plans are underway for a regional job fair through the Randolph and Lawrence County Chambers of Commerce. She reported that due to expansions, there has been a steep increase in available jobs. The event is tentatively set for summer or early fall and will likely take place at BRTC.

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