The Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority will launch an economic development planning project designed to refine the top targeted business and industry targets for the region but as well as uncover emerging or niche business sectors, NARIFA Executive Director Graycen Colbert Bigger said.
This planning process will focus on job growth, quality of life and other factors that will lead to strengthening the region’s economic development competitiveness. Boyette Strategic Advisors, an economic development consulting firm based in Little Rock, will conduct the study that will serve as the basis for this project, she said.
Bigger said the goal is to create a platform to guide economic development efforts in the region over the next five years, at it will include an assessment of the area’s unique assets, which will be obtained through both qualitative and quantitative research as well as stakeholder engagement.
“The NEA Regional Intermodal Authority, which has been in existence for almost 10 years now, is examining how we can best serve our stakeholders and the economic development needs of the regional community through this comprehensive process,” Bigger said. “We’re excited to partner with the Clay County Electric Cooperative and Boyette Strategic Advisors to complete this project.”
Business intelligence, attraction, research, and expansion in the region will be studied, she said. Communication, marketing, education, and overall workforce talent will be research, too.
Input from key stakeholder groups such as major employers, local business leaders, local economic development professionals, and regional and state economic development partners will be a critical component of this study as Boyette seeks to identify current economic development challenges and opportunities in the region. This stakeholder engagement process will explore general economic and business issues, as well specific topics related to business attraction, workforce availability, marketing and perception of the area, and support for existing businesses.
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.
NARIFA was instrumental in landing the Peco Foods poultry processing plant and hatchery in Pocahontas that opened last year. The $165 million plant employs more than 1,000 workers. A $35 million feed mill to support the company’s Northeast Arkansas poultry operations was opened in Corning. Since the project was announced in 2014, NARIFA has not had a major jobs project.