Economic development: Mirroring Phillips County

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) – A group of approximately 50 people packed into the Community Room of Southern Bancorp in Trumann Thursday morning to discuss community and economic development. Southern Bancorp CEO Phillip Baldwin told Region 8 News a number of Poinsett County residents have expressed interest in developing a strategic plan, allowing residents to give input on county needs.

"It's the people of Poinsett County stepping up and saying, we're now in charge of our future," said Baldwin.

Southern Bancorp, founded by business leaders, has dished out more than $2.5 billion in loans to rural communities over the last several years. Southern has loaned money to Phillips County, which started the Delta Bridge Project in 2005.

"I think the key fundamental for this is leadership. A county that has strong leadership that's looking at a comprehensive effort that really will take years and year to progress through is key," said Baldwin. "Ultimately what all this is about is jobs. It's about good opportunities for not just you and me, but for our kids and grandkids to have a good job so they can live here in Poinsett County."

Anthony Patterson, President of the Trumann Chamber of Commerce, said the county has already performed an assessment. He was commissioned by Governor Beebe's office in 2008 to assess Poinsett County as part of Arkansas Works, the governor's summit on education and economic development.

"Looking at trends in our county assessment that we did last year, it shows some things that we know we need improvement at. We've seen some improvement in the awards that have been given," said Patterson. "When you look at NAPA, O'Reilly's, Holden's, they're not able to sell parts if there is no money for the farmer to spend on those parts and update equipment."

Poinsett County residents held several meetings in 2009 regarding economic development. Earlier this year, Arkansas State Delta Center for Economic Development selected the county for a focus study. It got various community and government leaders together to open the discussion.

"At this, everybody thinks we need a county wide economic development effort," said Poinsett County Judge Charles Nix. "If I had to pick out one effort we need to make, that's economic development. I think that's one of the things that is important enough to our county that it's going to lift the level of the whole county."

Patterson told Region 8 News several companies have approached him in recent weeks that specialize in "green" technology. He also said some companies could be suppliers for companies already located in northeast Arkansas.

"Looking at Nordex coming to Jonesboro, we hope there will be some suppliers that will need a place to locate and we want to make ourselves ready for that," said Patterson. "Several different companies have contacted us and we have contacted them and sent them information, all of which in the last recent months have dealt with some of the initiatives that are going forth with our government in going green."

Patterson said it may take eight months before residents see any kind of visual changes in economics.

"They've (Phillips County) been through this process and we can see the success that's happened in those two counties. We can see what's taking place there so we hope to build off that and look at the things that's been successful in Phillips and Clark County and work it here in Poinsett County and make those things work for us," said Patterson.

"Clearly, I think the focus is on Jonesboro. What businesses and what opportunities you can get that tie into Jonesboro would be key," said Baldwin. "I'm extremely excited because what I have seen in the times that I've been here is good strong county leadership and really young leadership, who wants to do something different, who wants to make a real impact in the county and I think this is a progressive process where more people will get involved."

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