October 1, 2014 Edition

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NEARIFA commits
funds to WR prospect

Dalton Sullivan
Pocahontas Star Herald

It was reported at Thursday"s Intermodal Authority meeting that the Executive Board of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority has been meeting with a prospect that is looking to bring 40-50 jobs to a facility located on the Walnut Ridge airport property.

Executive Director Wayne Gearhart said it is a German company that works with Allegis, which already has a facility in Walnut Ridge. The executive board committed up to $10,000 for the company. "It could be up to 12 months before they need any funding," Gearhart said, "but we want to help in any way we can."

Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House said he also expects the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, the city of Walnut Ridge and the county to offer support in bringing the company to Walnut Ridge.

Once again this past week the NEARIFA held two days of committee meetings in preparation for the arrival of Peco in Northeast Arkansas.

The full NEARIFA board met on Thursday morning after several committees, made up of NEARIFA board members and community leaders from Randolph, Clay and Lawrence counties, met in committees to discuss various issues concerning the arrival of Peco and what needs to be done to make sure their arrival in the region goes as smoothly as possible.

Denisa Pennington, who is the 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.

The various committees are working on a number of items, including working on the offering of Spanish classes for healthcare workers. The Communications Committee is working on a full-color brochure that gives the history of Peco and answers some frequently asked questions. They are hoping the brochure will be ready by the annual Randolph County Chamber meeting and banquet this coming Monday night, Oct. 6. The Housing Committee is also doing its part to provide a list of available housing to construction workers as they arrive in Northeast Arkansas.

Alan McVeigh of the Delta Center at ASU addressed the NEARIFA board, reporting they are putting together a potential two-day trip for NEARIFA board/committee members to tour cities in Mississippi where Peco has facilities. McVeigh said the trip would allow those making the trip to talk to elected officials in the two towns, as well as tour the Peco facilities.

"It gives you an opportunity," McVeigh said, "to talk to these entities and see how they handled things. It is an opportunity to learn from their successes and their failures." McVeigh said an ideal group to make the trip would be between 10 and 20.

In other business, the NEARIFA Board of Directors voted to raise the dues for 2015 to $10,000 annually. For the past four years the Intermodal Authority has only charged $1,000 annually to its members. The $10,000 annual figure is closer to what the NEARIFA charged when it was first formed.

"Our main focus has always been jobs," Gearhart said, "and we are getting more and more requests for matching funds."

The NEARIFA board pledged $100,000 to Peco to help bring them to Northeast Arkansas, and still owes $90,000 on that $100,000 pledge.

Milton Smith of Walnut Ridge, who is the NEARIFA treasurer, acknowledged raising the dues may create a hardship for some of the members, but like Gearhart and the rest of the board, he feels there is no other choice.

"There is some concern by raising the dues," Smith said, "that some of our partners may consider dropping out. But if we don"t have money in our account, we will have to shut down. Every job created, will mean jobs for residents of that city. It is a win-win for everybody."

Gearhart said the board would meet with all the entities to go over the dues increase. He said they would work with each entity to work out payment plans if need be. Gearhart said if it worked better for one of the city or county members to pay monthly, that was fine, because they don"t want to lose anyone in the coalition.

Gearhart also said the city of Piggott has shown recent interest in joining the NEARIFA coalition.

The next NEARIFA meeting will be on Thursday, Oct. 23.

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