Newport has a certified 100-acre industrial development park, but it’s not large enough to attract enough job providers to Jackson County.
To lure industries to the region, the commission hopes to get a 3,200-acre swath certified by the state in 2017, Newport Economic Development Commission Executive Director Jon Chadwell told Talk Business & Politics. It also hopes to develop an 800-acre intermodal site south of Newport that abuts the White River.
“It’s about creating better options and opportunities … what may work for one industry may not work for another,” Chadwell said.
Entergy and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission formed a partnership to certify select industrial sites around the state. A certified site means it has passed a litany of studies, and other requirements, Chadwell said. The 3,200-acre site would qualify as a “Mega” site in the state, meaning it could cater to virtually any industry including a major automotive manufacturer. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said more than once he’d like to locate automaker in the state.
Located near the Arkansas State University-Newport campus, the site has finished phase 1, meaning the property has been walked, its usage history has been studied, and people who have knowledge of the property and its prior uses have been interviewed. The city and the commission don’t own the property, but the land owner John Connor Jr., has agreed to sell the property if an industry decided to locate there, Chadwell said. Local officials hope to have the site certified in the coming months.
The site has also passed a wetlands and floodplain study. A geographical/technical study to determine the soil load, examine the water table, and other factors still has to be completed, according to the commission.
If it’s certified, the site will have 4.9 miles of highway frontage along U.S. 67. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has agreed to pursue legislation that would change U.S. 67 from North Little Rock to the Missouri border to Interstate 57.
The designation is critical. Many industries want freeway access, and the highway is already freeway quality, Chadwell said. The designation would provide another tool for economic developers, and it would also pave the way for the highway to receive more federal funding in the future, he said.
South of Newport, the commission hopes to develop an 800-acre intermodal site. This second site abuts the White River, and has highway access, Chadwell said. A railroad line bisects the property, meaning a potential industry would have highway/rail/water shipping capabilities, he said.
“It’s a pretty unique place … there are few places in Arkansas with that kind of access,” he said.
The intermodal site does have issues. It’s in a floodplain, meaning any buildings will have to have their foundations built above the floodplain, or a levee might be constructed to divert potential flood waters. A timetable to certify this spot has not been established.
Chadwell has been the director for 11 years, and it has been a challenge to attract industrial clients, he said. There are very few industries that want to locate in an industrial park that’s 100 acres or less, he said. Entergy officials helped them select the two sites, and he thinks it will propel Newport economically into the future.
“We’ve got some good tools in our tool box,” Chadwell said. “This will just give us more options. That’s a good thing.”