September 17, 2014 Edition

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Committees meet in
preparation for Peco

Dalton Sullivan
Star Herald

The Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority (NEARIFA) recently held two days of committee meetings in preparation of the arrival of Peco in Northeast Arkansas.

The full NEARIFA Board met on Aug. 28 after several committees, made up of NEARIFA Board members and community leaders from Randolph, Clay and Lawrence counties, met to discuss various issues concerning the arrival of Peco and how to make it as smooth as possible.

At the board meeting, five of the committees reported on the discussions they had, and what steps they plan on taking.

The Healthcare Committee, like each of the committees, had representatives from all three counties present and discussed what potential needs there would be not only for the company, but for the 1,000 plus workers who will be employed by Peco.

They are meeting with Peco officials to see if there is specialized training that healthcare professionals in the three counties will need in preparation.

The Services Committee requested they be kept current and up-to-date on all needs as they become known. They added it is important for the various chamber and city websites to keep them up-to-date with information.

The Housing Committee said one of the biggest needs will be finding investors to build more homes in the three counties. The Housing Committee feels that all three counties will share in providing residences for the workers, but do believe there is a shortage of quality housing.

They are currently working on an inventory of developmental land in all three counties to see what is available and suitable for building.

The Communications Committee acknowledges there is some misinformation and incorrect information floating around about Peco. While the vocal concerns have dropped dramatically as more information becomes available, there are still some residents of the three counties who don't know all of the facts.

The Communications Committee plans on putting together, with the assistance of Peco, a fact sheet on Peco and its plans for the area. They also plan on the fact sheet to answer frequently-asked-questions residents might have about the company.

The last committee to meet prior to the full NEARIFA meeting was the Education Committee. Superintendents from the three counties, as well as college administrators and interested residents met to discuss what the impact would be on the education system in the three counties.

Perhaps the most organized of the five committees, they need an economic impact study, and have a few questions for Peco that still need to be answered.

Denisa Pennington, director of community development with the AEDC, and Frankie Gilliam of the ASU Community/Economic Development Dept. facilitated each of the committee meetings over the two days, and will continue to work with each of the committees as needed until they meet again later this month. The next scheduled meeting of the NEARIFA is Thursday, Sept. 25.

NEARIFA Executive Director Wayne Gearhart said they are continuing to work on issues with Peco, and have had a few small bumps, but things are going well. Construction of the feed mill in Corning is underway, and dirt work has begun for the hatchery and processing facility in Pocahontas.

Gearhart added they continue to hear from prospects, adding the Peco announcement has opened other doors, and "we are drawing more attention from others than we ever have, and others are confirming this."

Alan McVeigh of the Delta Center at ASU also addressed the NEARIFA Board and agreed with Gearhart, saying they are seeing a strong, renewed interest in the region, and pledged their resources to do whatever was needed to help.

He encouraged the NEARIFA Board to "capture what you can from other Peco communities. See the operations, visit the community, ask questions, ask them what they would do differently."

Pocahontas Mayor Frank Bigger said, "This is going to change our community. Things will never be the same."

Gearhart added, "All three counties are going to benefit, and it will be a game-changer."

NEARIFA board member John Thomison of Lawrence County added, "This is going to be a pretty good ride, and we will be along for it."

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