May 28, 2014 Edition

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Intermodal Authority discusses
preparations needed for Peco Food

Denisa Pennington, Community Development Director with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, was guest speaker at the Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Facilities Authority on May 22. She led a discussion on what to expect when Peco Foods locates in this area.

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Northeast Arkansas has a new business coming to the area, and with it will come many new jobs and opportunities for growth and prosperity for its citizens, according to Denisa Pennington, Community Development Director for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Pennington was the speaker at the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority meeting on Thursday.

"With Peco Foods investing $165 million to locate a feed mill in Corning and a processing plant and hatchery between Pocahontas and Walnut Ridge, you have the opportunity here to show the rest of the state how it's done," Pennington said.

She led board members in a discussion of what is known about Peco's locating here and what the board needs to know before the facilities are operational.

"We need to know what Peco's needs are, the needs of our governmental authorities, our suppliers' needs and the needs of the people who live here and those who will locate here.

"Think regional, not city or county limits," Pennington told the board. "The new business will provide jobs for the regional workforce, and many of these workers will need homes to live in, more stores to shop in, a greater need for education and educators, etc.

"Infrastructures will have to be improved throughout the area (water, sewer, roads, etc.) and cultural changes will also take place as more Hispanic workers move here to work." She told the board that the city of Walnut Ridge was in pretty good shape with its infrastructure.

She also encouraged board members to inform people that the Intermodal meetings are open to the public, and everyone is welcome to attend. By attending the meetings, people can learn what is going on in this area and share their thoughts and ideas with the board.

The current unemployment rate in this area is between eight and 10 percent, according to several mayors who were in attendance.

Peco plans to employ approximately 1,000 people when they are fully operational, not including construction workers, electricians, plumbers, etc., who will build the facilities.

Several high schools and Black River Technical College will be offering classes related to jobs Peco will provide.

Board member Milton Smith said Peco will bring their own employment agency here to hire employees. "Our citizens will have to apply for these jobs - the Hispanic population will work if we won't," said Smith.

Raul Blasini of Pocahontas told the board that he foresees the Hispanic community becoming larger, bringing the need for Spanish speaking employees in healthcare and other professions, including more Spanish-speaking teachers in area schools. He added the Hispanics will also bring about some cultural changes.

Pennington stressed the need for local chambers of commerce to get information to residents in the region about the opportunities and possibilities for growth in all areas.

Dirt work for the feed mill in Corning began May 22, and construction will begin on June 15. It should be completed within 18 months. Construction on the processing plant is set for Sept. 1.

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