One of Harrisburg’s leading employers plans to double its workforce by the spring of 2018. Rusken Packaging will undergo a $20 million expansion and hire about 50 new employees, Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nacole Sweeney told Talk Business & Politics.
Rusken plans to expand its corrugated fiber box lines.
“We’re really excited. When one manufacturer does well it makes us more competitive when we try to bring another one in,” she said.
The Harrisburg City Council approved a resolution Monday night allowing the company to participate in the state’s tax back program. Advantage Arkansas participants investing at least $100,000 are eligible for the tax back program. This program provides a refund of sales and use taxes on the purchase of building materials and taxable machinery and equipment associated with the approved project, according to the Little Rock Regional Chamber. The business must sign a job-creation agreement under the Advantage Arkansas program within 24 months of signing the tax back agreement. Applicants for tax back must obtain an endorsement resolution from the local governing authority that authorizes the refund of its local taxes. Applicants must meet the same qualification criteria as Advantage Arkansas and must be approved by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
The city of about 2,400 residents, has another economic development opportunity on the horizon. Southeastern Medical Solutions is seeking to become one of the five medical marijuana cultivation centers in Arkansas. At least 90 have applied for those slots, and the state will decide at the end of February which ones will be licensed, she said. Some of the applications were more than 1,000 pages. If SMS gets a permit, the company plans to place its business in a 40,000-square-foot building in Harrisburg. It would create around 50 jobs, and maybe more, she said.
“At this point we’re hopeful,” she said. “I really hope we get it,” she said.
Harrisburg is about a 15-minute drive from Jonesboro, Northeast Arkansas’ largest city. The median income in the city is more than $35,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average in Arkansas is $44,334, but the city’s average is higher than many other communities in the Delta Region. Housing in a key issue in the city, located in Poinsett County, Sweeney said.
There are too few houses to rent and not enough houses in the $60,000 to $100,000 range to buy, she said. Harrisburg has a relatively low crime rate, and the cost of living is low, too, she said. According to the City-Data.com cost of living index, the city rates a 78.6 on its cost of living scale. The average is 100.
“We think of ourselves as a bedroom community to Jonesboro,” she said.
Harrisburg has a couple of tools in its economic development tool box to offer when it comes to luring potential manufacturers to the area. It has a 1/3-cent sales tax dedicated to economic development that generates about $100,000 per year. The city owns its natural gas company meaning it can negotiate and offer energy incentives to any company contemplating a move there, she said. Sweeney also is a city council member in the city.
Civic and business leaders also are pushing a shop local initiative. A billboard near the city limits headed toward Jonesboro encourages residents to buy products and services in Harrisburg. Local police, fire fighters, and others depend on sales tax dollars to fund their pay checks, she said. There has been a push in the local newspaper and on social media to educate residents.
“We need to make people aware of how important it is to shop local,” she said.