The Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority (NARIFA) is once again searching for a new executive director. Derrick Harris, 28, of Piggott was hired earlier this year to serve as the director, but he resigned his post to take a job in Florida.
Attempts by Talk Business & Politics to reach Harris by phone were unsuccessful.
NARIFA Board Member Lloyd Clark told Talk Business & Politics the organization has two candidates who’ve submitted applications to replace Harris. Officials hope to have a new director hired by the end of the month, he said.
“We were stunned when Derrick tendered his resignation,” Clark said. “We really thought he was the right guy for this job.”
There has been a push by some board members to hire a consultant instead of a director. Board Member Eric Turner told Talk Business & Politics at least one consultant has submitted a proposal and another one is expected to submit one, he said. NARIFA’s Executive Committee has suggested the board take the consultant route, he said.
“At this time we don’t think we have the financial resources to hire a person with the expertise and experience required,” Turner said. “A consultant would act as a point-person for the authority. We have to be realistic about what we can pay.”
A consultant would be used on a retainer basis. Turner said he would love for the Authority to find a permanent director, but the chances are slim at this point. Former Director Wayne Gearhart resigned in December 2015, and Harris was the first viable candidate to take the job. He only last three weeks.
Which way NARIFA will go will largely depends on the proposals and applications received in the coming weeks, Turner said. There have been rumblings that if the economic development group doesn’t land a new potential employer this year some members could leave.
NARIFA was formed in 2009 to stimulate job creation and economic development in Northeast Arkansas. At one time, the organization included Corning, Hoxie, Pocahontas, Walnut Ridge and three counties — Clay, Lawrence and Randolph. Membership fees are $10,000 per year, per entity. Hoxie and Clay counties have bowed out of the organization, and several Lawrence County officials have questioned their county’s inclusion in the organization.
NARIFA was instrumental in landing the Peco Foods poultry processing plant and hatchery in Pocahontas that opened last year. The $165 million plant will employ up to 1,400 workers when it’s operational, company officials told Talk Business & Politics. A $35 million feed mill to support the company NEA poultry operations was opened in Corning. Since the project was announced in 2014, NARIFA has not had a major jobs project.
Harris was in the midst of a comprehensive study and data collection effort when he resigned. Companies need detailed and precise information when they make decisions about where to locate their businesses, he said previously. How that study will move forward is uncertain, Clark said. Harris was also expected to make overtures to other counties and cities in the region to become members.
One reason Harris left was because he said he was uncertain about the viability of the organization in the future, Clark said. Ironically, part of their plan to jumpstart NARIFA was hiring Harris, he said. No matter how NARIFA moves on, Clark and Turner think it’s a key component in sustained economic growth for the region.
“We think regional concept is vital to our area,” Turner said.