April 30, 2014 Edition

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NEARIFA board discusses
selection of Peco sites

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

When Peco Foods contacted Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority President Wayne Gearhart 10 months ago about bringing a $165 million poultry operation to Northeast Arkansas, he took on the task of helping them find a site to build on. At NEARIFA's meeting on Thursday, Gearhart explained to board members exactly what went into finding a location that would meet their needs.

"Our executive board has been pretty well informed about the process, but I want to share that information with the rest of the board members," he said.

Gearhart said he believes he was the only local representative company officials were talking to for the first five or six months after they contacted him. He said after the initial meeting with Peco officials, he and representatives from NEARIFA toured all county and city member sites they felt would be available and suitable for Peco's needs.

"I showed them nine sites in Lawrence County, four in Randolph County and one in Corning," said Gearhart. "A week later they asked me to gather site information, and we looked again at all sites and the facilities they offered."

Within two weeks, top Peco Foods officials came back, and Gearhart showed them sites along Highway 67, including one 165-acre site near Williams Baptist College.

"Eight acres of that property are in a flood plain, and they didn't want near that," he said.

Gearhart said company requirements included a drainage ditch, close to utilities, and the property needed to be no more than a fourth a mile from a gas source. Sites along Highway 67 in Lawrence, Randolph and Clay counties were shown to the officials. He said he spent two or three weeks gathering more information, and he thought a site near Bird Song at Portia would be a good site for the feed mill. The company didn't agree, and eventually selected a site in Corning for the feed mill, and a site in Randolph County for the 255,000-square-foot processing plant and the 73,000-square-foot hatchery.

Gearhart said he showed the company possibilities in all member entity sites, including Imboden and Corning.

"I represented all six partners to the best of my ability and will continue to do so in the future," he said.

"The Peco officials requested to work only with NEARIFA, the first time they had worked with a regional development group, and they said they were well pleased," Gearhart told members. " In working with them, I was under no political pressure of any kind, and Peco chose the sites they felt best suited their needs."

Board member Milton Smith, president of First National Bank in Walnut Ridge, added, "When we recruit, the business chooses the site, but they hire from other counties as well. Lawrence County employees will join those from other counties who will work for Peco."

Bringing jobs to this area has been the primary concern of the NEARIFA since it was organized. Gearhart thanked everyone who had been a part of securing the business for Northeast Arkansas, and members discussed work that must now be done to provide infrastructure to support Peco and its future employees, such as housing, etc. Approximately 6,000 are expected to be employed by Peco.

Gearhart said when it is fully operational, the new venture will be the largest poultry processing plant in the United States. Their weekly slaughter rate will be 1,300,000, with 17,587,714 bushels of feed annually, for a total of $79,144,714 in grain purchase, with as much as possible coming from local suppliers.

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