The Newport Economic Development Commission saw a lot of growth in Newport and Jackson County during 2018. Below is a report on many of the things that the NEDC, the City and the County worked on with our fantastic economic development partners. If you would like more specific information on any of these areas, feel free to call the Newport Economic Development Commission at 870-523-1009 or stop by to visit with them.

NEDC Holds Meetings with Major Employers

In 2018, the Newport Economic Development Commission arranged to have several of their monthly meetings at the facilities of some of Jackson County’s major employers. Southwest Steel Processing, ASU-Newport, Gränges Americas, Arkansas Steel Associates, Shearer’s Snacks, Unity Health Harris Medical Center and ADC’s McPherson Unit all hosted the Commission and shared reports concerning their business operations. Each of these companies was experiencing growth and/or new development in 2018.

White River Regional Port Authority Receives Grants for Port Road Construction
The White River Regional Port Authority, with assistance from the Newport Economic Development Commission, completed Phase I of an access road into the future site of the White River Port in Newport. The project was funded by a $134,000 grant from the Arkansas Waterways Commission and a 10% match given to the Port Authority from the NEDC. In addition, the Port Authority also received a $141,720 grant from the Arkansas Waterways Commission for Phase II of the access road. Special thanks goes to Waterways Commissioner for the White River, Jeff Rutledge and Chairman Harvey Joe Sanner, along with the staff of the Waterways Commission led by Deidre Smith.

Newport Mega Industrial Site Certification in Process
The Newport Economic Development Commission working with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission began the process of certifying a Mega Site in Jackson County. The site contains 3,200 acres and will be the largest industrial site in Arkansas when certified. Through the year, several of the hurdles for certification were cleared, and the NEDC hopes to finalize the certification of the site in 2019.

US Highway 67 Designated as Future I-57
In February, the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced that US Highway 67 through Jackson County had received the designation of Future I-57. This transportation infrastructure upgrade has been a regional priority for over a decade. Thanks to the help of Senator John Boozman, the designation has been secured, and the area can look forward to full interstate status in the future.

Delta Medical Cannabis Company Selects Newport for Facility
Delta Medical Cannabis Company was awarded a medical marijuana cultivation license for Jackson County. The company is finalizing construction details and should start construction in early 2019. They intend to hire 40 to 50 people at wages significantly higher that the county’s average wage. The company also plans to start the Northeast Arkansas Learning Initiative to help with early childhood education and will be working with the Newport Special School District as the first recipient of this model of funding and technical assistance.

Natural State Wellness Enterprises Chooses Newport for Facility
Natural State Wellness Enterprises, LLC selected Newport as the site for their medical marijuana cultivation facility over a site in another county. Natural State Wellness will also hire around 50 employees at a higher wage than the county’s average. The company broke ground in late 2018, and their building will be under construction in early 2019. The company will donate significantly to regional non-profit organizations as part of their license application.

Gränges Americas Chooses Newport for Expansion
In May, Gränges Americas selected Jackson County as the site for their $26 million investment in an aluminum manufacturing process over a site in another state. Gränges had purchased the assets of the bankrupt Norandal Company and selected Newport as the site for this expansion. The Newport Economic Development Commission worked with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to win this project. A huge amount of thanks goes to the team at AEDC who worked to make this happen. The factory will employ a minimum of 100 people when fully operational at an average wage of $25 per hour. Approximately half of the positions had already been filled by the end of 2018. Gränges has also worked with ASU-Newport on a training program to help fill some of the specialized positions.

Opportunity Zone Created in Jackson County
In June, the office of Governor Asa Hutchinson designated a large census tract in Jackson County as an Opportunity Zone. Only 25% of the eligible census tracts could be designated as Opportunity Zones, and Jackson County was fortunate to receive one. The Opportunity Zone in Jackson County is one of the largest in the state and encompasses all of the industrial sites that the Newport Economic Development Commission has under option. The Zones have federal tax incentives that make investment within a Zone even more attractive.

Shearer's Snacks Hired New Employees in 2018
Shearer’s Snacks announced the hiring of 50 new employees in June with most starting as seasonal employees. However, many of the jobs became permanent jobs as Shearer’s saw the need for increased employment. Shearer’s Snacks has become the largest manufacturing employer in Jackson County with just under 500 employees.

Industrial Property Acquisition Underway

The Newport Economic Development Commission has worked on purchasing the former Ever Corporation property to create opportunity for industrial development related to the Gränges Americas location in Jackson County. The buildings will be removed and the site will be cleaned and prepared for any companies that might be interested in a site near Gränges, Southwest Steel Processing or Arkansas Steel Associates. The purchase should be finalized in January of 2019.

Julie Allen Gains PCED Certification
Upon completion of the Community Development Institute at UCA, Julie Allen, Director of Chamber Affairs, took the exam to become a Professional Community and Economic Developer. She was one of a third of the candidates who successfully passed the exam and was certified as a PCED. Julie becomes the second certified member on the staff.

Newport One of Two Designated as a Competitive Community
In October, Newport was designated as a Competitive Community by the Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Mike Preston. Newport was the first community to receive the designation and one of only two communities, along with Paragould, to be designated. At the end of 2018, Paragould and Newport remain the only two communities who are designated as Competitive Communities. The designation indicates that the designated communities have everything in place to be competitive and successful in economic and community development.

Newport Airbase Industrial Site One of Three Sites Certified
Also in October, Entergy Arkansas certified Newport’s industrial site. Initially, the site was to be a 96-acre site, however, the size was reduced to 76 acres with the sale of 20 acres to Natural State Wellness Enterprises, LLC. Danny Games, Vice-President for Business and Economic Development with Entergy, presented the certification and a grant for $3,000 to the NEDC to help cover the costs of certifying the site. Newport, Russellville and Little Rock had the first three sites to receive certification of their industrial sites under the re-certification process.

ASU-Newport Maverick House Sold to the Foundation
The Newport Economic Development Commission purchased a facility several years ago to assist with housing the commercial driving students from the Maverick Corporation. The NEDC operated and managed the facility, known as the “Maverick House,” until November of 2018, when the building was sold to the foundation at ASU-Newport. The NEDC was honored to partner with ASU-Newport and assist with housing students. The students, who live in the community for several weeks during their classes, have a positive economic impact on Newport and Jackson County.

Taylormade Ambulance Undergoes Lean Manufacturing Training
The Newport Economic Development Commission awarded Taylormade Ambulance a grant to help the company implement Lean Manufacturing within the plant. The company, under new ownership, has participated in computer training offered through ASU-Newport, Lean Manufacturing training offered through Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions and OSHA training in 2018.

ReNewport Grants Awarded to Locally Owned Businesses

The popular ReNewport Grant program that assists small businesses with exterior improvements to their business properties was active in 2018. Twelve local small businesses received grants to improve their facilities. Four of the grants were given to new businesses and eight of the grants were given to existing businesses. Since the ReNewport grant program began, it has awarded 75 grants to small businesses in Newport, with 69 of those grants going to businesses owned by local individuals.

Grimes and McPherson Units Experience Growth and Awards
Warden Deangelo Earl reported to the Newport Economic Development Commission in December that the McPherson Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections now employs 297 people. These positions have competitive wages and full health and retirement benefits. The Grimes Unit employs approximately the same number of people. Including both units, the Arkansas Department of Corrections is the largest employer in Newport with 594 employees. Through Warden Earl and Warden Toni Bradley’s guidance, the facilities have become even more visible and active in the community. Both Units rated extremely highly - Grimes 98 and 98 out of 100 and McPherson 99 and 98 out of 100 - in recent accreditation.

Prospect Activity

Prospect activity was high again in 2018. The Newport Economic Development Commission worked with 63 prospects during the year. Prospects included both new businesses and expanding businesses alike. During the year, 9 of the prospects either opened their doors or expanded their businesses. Another 15 of the prospects are still pending a decision by their owners to move forward. The Center for Rural Development states that retail sales in Newport have increased by $74 million over the last decade due to the increase in both the number of businesses and the increase in jobs.

Other Activities

The Newport Economic Development Commission conducted a Wage and Benefit Survey as part of a certification process from the state. The information has been compiled and can be used with industries in expansion and recruitment efforts. The survey showed a significant increase in average wage and in benefits over the previous survey completed five years ago.

In August, the Newport Economic Development Commission had a discussion concerning education as a backbone for economic development. A group of concerned individuals, later calling themselves MOST, had requested that the Director of Economic Development serve as a spokesperson for the group. The NEDC agreed that this was a process in which the Director should be involved. In their December meeting, the NEDC reaffirmed the decision for the Director to be the spokesperson for MOST with a unanimous vote.

A company from Missouri is finalizing plans to operate a port on the White River in Newport. The company has seen significant success on the upper Missouri River and feels they can do the same on the White River. They hope to be operational by the fall of 2019.

Looking Forward

The Newport Economic Development Commission looks forward to a great 2019 as it unveiled its FOCUS 2019 strategic plan in December. The plan is a coordinated economic and community development plan developed in cooperation with the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Revitalization and Improvement Volunteer Effort and six other development organizations in Jackson County. The Commission is served by Jon Chadwell (Certified Economic Developer) as Director of Economic Development, Julie Allen (Professional Community and Economic Developer) as Director of Chamber Affairs, Courtney Baker as Administrative Assistant and Christel Taylor as Administrative Assistant.

You Are Invited

The Newport Economic Development Commission meets on the second Thursday of each month at 7 am. The meetings are typically held at the Newport Business Resource Center, 201 Hazel Street, Newport, AR 72112. The public is invited to attend those meetings.