GREDF Board discusses jobs, housing and clean-up

Oct 18, 2023
Revis Blaylock

NEA Town Courier

The Great River Economic Development Foundation board members discussed jobs, property, housing, and clean-up at the Thursday morning meeting. The October meeting was held at the Arkansas Northeastern College community room.

Following a review of the financial report by Treasurer Kenny Noble, an update on jobs was presented by Clif Chitwood, president of the county's economic development. Chitwood said there will be an additional 300 jobs this year in the county. He also said Atlas is making a $65 million investment and Hybar is making a $700 million investment in the county. He said they have had some discussions on certifying property at Burdette, on 61 Highway, which would be a feasible site for an industry.

“There are no more sites available on the river,” Chitwood said.

He suggested they look at towns throughout the county for properties to certify.

Chitwood discussed the success of the training partnership at ANC. The county is covering 25 percent of the cost, the state covers about 50 percent and the employers cover 25 percent. One of the keys to maintaining industries is well-trained employees.

Dr. Chris Heigle, president of ANC, said they had reached out to the college in Mena following the closing of a company in that area to see if they want to meet about the boot camp program. The boot camp training is underway and ANC is recruiting for the next start. The boot camp is funded by Works grants.

Chitwood pointed out that the ANC graduates start to work making more than any other college graduates.

Randy Scott reported on the Grow Mississippi County project, live here work here incentive. He said 55 homes have been purchased or are under construction through the program. Work here live here is a home purchasing incentive supported by local industries. Most employees taking advantage of the incentive are from Big River Steel. The incentive includes a five percent loan on established homes and 10 percent on new construction. Employees of industries in the program will apply and when approved work with a local bank.

“We are hoping to get more industries involved,” Scott said. “The average price of the homes is $282,340. For the $1.427 million investment, there is $14,424,537 in home values.”

Throughout the county homes in the Grow Mississippi County project include 26 in Manila, nine in Osceola, six in Blytheville, two in Armorel, three in Wilson, and one each in Keiser, Luxora, Joiner, Etowah, and Leachville. Gosnell has several new homes under construction. Scott said the returns will be 10 to one with kids going to school and families being part of the communities for a lot of first-time homeowners.

Board member Barrett Harrison said he had been asked by the Blytheville Regional Airport Authority board members if there would be funds from the Economic Development to help with clean up at the base. He went on to say Judge Nelson is trying to find money to help remove dilapidated houses.

“We are not ignoring the problem,” Harrison said. “The Airport Authority Budget allows us to clean up one or two but we can’t seem to get ahead. If we could clean up from the Airbase Highway, down Memorial Drive to the flight line, it would help. We do not own all of the property. The city owns a lot of it.”

The cost of cleaning up and removing concrete slabs would be about $400,000.

Judge Nelson said the Aeroplex is one of the underutilized assets of the county and he would be totally behind it.

Judge Nelson said they have made several trips to Washington, D.C., and are working on any funding available.

The board agreed the sales tax revenue has been good and they have an emphasis on getting people to live in Mississippi County and the appearance makes a difference.

A discussion was held on certifying sites and studies for future economic development which would be under the economic development guidelines.

Chair Brad Harrison suggested Chitwood and Mallory, vice president, look into sites for individual projects across the county and they can help bring in large and small industries.

Mike Jacques talked about the Cold War Museum project underway.

“It is going to happen, but we have to clean up,” he said. Tourism is the second largest industry in Arkansas, second to agriculture,” Jacques said.

Chitwood said the old airbase is a good place to start. It is public property.

It was agreed to start with the airbase and then look across the county and work with all of the towns.

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