August 5, 2015 Edition

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NEARIFA hears from East
Arkansas Planning and Development

Susan Johnson
Star Herald

Workforce development was one of the chief topics during the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority board meeting on July 23 in the Black River Technical College board room.

Representatives Emily Hathcock and Sheila Walters, of East Arkansas Planning and Development, were in attendance to discuss various projects currently in the works. These projects would help to build a greater workforce by educating and preparing the community for when jobs start to become available in the areas they represent.

Several Intermodal members voiced an interest in the East Arkansas Planning and Development preparing an impact analysis for Northeast Arkansas, namely what type of industries would be a fit for the area based on the region's infrastructure.

East Arkansas Planning and Development, in addition to providing grants, also provides financial assistance by way of small business loans and provides workforce development to build the area workforce to a greater capacity.

Intermodal Chairman Scott Trammel stated he had heard, by way of various employment agencies, that Randolph County, as well as neighboring counties, did not have an adequate workforce.

"I find that hard to believe given our unemployment numbers," Trammel said. "I want to know if that is true. I know there are some that just don't want to work."

Walters stated the agency was working with Black River Technical College to get potential employees work ready through math and reading training. The pilot program currently consists of Randolph, Craighead, Cross, Phillips and Mississippi counties with plans to bring in the other seven at a later day to have each of the 12 counties they represent involved in the Workforce Development training.

Also in attendance at the meeting was J.D. Lowery, Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Inc., community and economic development manager.

Lowery said he has served in his current position since January and was currently attempting to establish a relationship with the 17 cooperatives he serves. He is in the process of establishing a five-year strategic plan to maximize resources.

"Traditionally economic development has been known for looking for companies to come to an area," Lowery said. "I want to expand that to include everything areas have to offer, such as heritage, and promote local entrepreneurs. In six months from now I will have some better answers for you. I hope to be a great resource for economic development."

David Coker, Intermodal board member, questioned the possibility of participating in trade shows.

Tiffany Callaway, AEDC representative, stated a member, or members, would have to become an AEDC member in order to participate in trade shows. Cost of membership is $150 per person.

"Trade show invitations are always given to members first," Callaway said. Callaway also announced the AEDC conference would be held Aug. 23-25 and is not full. She described the event as a time when all economic developers come together.

The board voted to pay the fees and travel expenses for Intermodal Director Wayne Gearhart to attend the conference, as well as, send an email out to other members who might want to attend.

Discussions were held concerning the remaining balance of the GRIEF grant, which is $12,471.41. Ideas were tossed around such as, advertising, an appreciation luncheon, job fair, PECO appreciation, among others. The decision was made to bring a plan, along with a budget, to the August meeting for a final decision.

During his monthly update, Gearhart said he had met with two or three groups at their request for updates on the PECO Processing Plant. He had also met with Lawrence County Water Works and Pocahontas Water Works.

Gearhart said he had received one contact concerning the prospect of a new industry locating in the area.

"This is a work in progress, we don't know the full outcome yet," Gearhart said.

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