June 10, 2015 Edition

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Darling, Peco highlight
Intermodal meeting

Jim McIntosh
Star Herald

While the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority did not have enough board members to have an official quorum at it's May meeting in Corning, members did discuss key issues.

Director Wayne Gearhart informed members that the balance was at $46,172.80 with only payroll and website renewal charges pending.

Corning Mayor Rob Young thanked Intermodal Authority members for meeting in Corning. He had previously spoken with David Burnette with Entergy Inc., and received an email from an Entergy official regarding interest in the buildings and properties operated by L.A. Darling Co. in Corning.

Young said the factory, which had announced a Sept. 30, 2015, closing, had extended a contract with Walmart and may be in operation until December, although he had no official word.

The Piggott plant was set to close last month but that date was extended until later this year due to contract renewals. Although he wouldn’t elaborate, the mayor said he had heard various rumors about the closing of the plant; some even speculating whether the company would remain closed permanently.

"Those are just rumors," the mayor explained. "We don't have any official word from Darling about their future plans other than they announced they would close Sept. 30."

Young also told the board that a local business and property owner is in talks with Casey's General Store officials concerning the possibility of adding a facility in Corning.

Gearhart informed members that Peco Foods, Inc., is planning to hold a Job Fair in Corning in November. The company is projected to be operational by August. Peco is building two facilities in the area, a large feed mill in Corning and a production facility in Pocahontas. The company has said it would employ upwards of 1,200 individuals once both facilities are up and running.

Gearhart said he is discussing with members the idea of hosting a banquet or luncheon where plans and strategies are discussed among colleagues about progress in the region. The event could feature the mayor of Batesville as a guest speaker, sharing his own experience with the entrance of Peco Foods in that community.

"That could be beneficial to all of us," Gearhart said. "He has experience with all of the things we will be facing."

Gearhart said the event would also feature various businesses in the area that have contributed to economic development.

Gearhart visited the Peco facility earlier this year and described it as the "nearest to perfection building ever built." New silos have already been constructed and a $1.24 million grant had been acquired for construction of County Road 142. Although rain has delayed construction at both locations, Gearhart reported that work was continuing and should be on schedule. The Pocahontas facility has a completion date of early 2016.

Several members voiced concerns over complications with farmers emanating from bad weather and a weakened Farm Bill. Frequent rain has delayed many crops and implement dealers are feeling the pinch as well.

"We are an agricultural community," Gearhart said. "So anything that affects farmers affects all of us."

Among a handful of board members were visitors Denisa Pennington, director of community development for Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), and Ronald Chastain and Nathan Davis with Senator John Boozman office. Each brought news from state government concerning economic development and various challenges facing small communities in the future.

Pennington spoke briefly about Mike Preston; newly-appointed director of AEDC, whom she said has brought a fresh energy to the department. Preston, a Florida native, has vast legislative experience in economic development.

She said he and Gov. Asa Hutchinson had recently returned from a visit to the west coast where they met with leaders in the technology industry, letting them know that Arkansas was open for business. The two also have been emphasizing a focus on aerospace and plan to attend an air show to promote the state's cluster of aerospace companies which range from airplane refurbishing to jet customization.

Pennington shared with board members that the merging of state departments may have some impact on rural communities. She mentioned two such consolidations: the Department of Rural Services and the Arkansas Science and Technology Department will merge with AEDC. It is not known how that may affect rural cities.

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