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06/08/2019

GREDF Approves Funding Projects Creating 65 Total Jobs Here

 

On Thursday morning, the Great River Economic Development Foundation gave its blessing to offer economic development funds to two projects that are expected to create a total of 65 new jobs in Mississippi County.

White Gold Mill, a cotton seed oil mill, plans to hire 55 people and would receive a $12,000 per employee incentive if the worker lives in Mississippi County.

The company has a partnership agreement with the Lawrence Group in Wilson, paying $15 per hour or more to employees.

The board also approved a proposal from NuArk, which is adding 10 positions.

The company would receive $10,000 per job held by a Mississippi County resident and half of that for Dunklin and Pemiscot residents.

NuArk currently has 60 employees, according to county economic developer Clif Chitwood.

GREDF board chairman Randy Scott said the company does steel fabrication, including servicing Nucor and Big River Steel.

Scott noted NuArk works with cell phone service providers to make mini cell towers, in the form of telephone polls, for ball fields, theme parks and concerts to improve cell service at those venues.

Chitwood said the new jobs bring the total created to 325 over the last several months. He told the board had the county announced an industry was bringing 325 jobs to the area it would have made statewide news.

“But we’ve done it 40, 50, 30, 10 jobs at a time,” Chitwood said. “In a lot of ways that is much more stable than one big industry.”

In other news, Scott asked Chitwood if the county should be marketing to Crossett and Kennett for desperately needed employees here since both towns recently had employers who cut a significant number of jobs.

Georgia Pacific, which is Crossett’s biggest employer, is cutting more than 500 jobs, while Kennett’s Parker-Hannifin is reportedly closing in September, eliminating 92 jobs.

“This is a delicate subject, especially within Arkansas,” Chitwood said. “Crossett and southern Arkansas were all very helpful on the Big River project. They all lobbied their senators and their reps to help us get that through. We don’t want to appear like a stockbroker showing up at a house the day after a funeral to ask about investing the life insurance money. It’s still pretty raw; those communities are in shock. I talked to the economic developer yesterday just to extend my condolences. But I did also talk to the governor’s dislocated workers relocation task force and let them know that we had an opportunity, which they were very appreciative of. So, I think in due time, that will be made known. Now, we can’t stop the private temp agencies from doing anything they want. If they’ve got a list of employees, they can run an ad in the paper. But I just think Mississippi County needs to be discreet. We know how we would feel if we lost a major plant and the next day an Arkansas community was here trying to scoop up our people before we even had a chance to replenish those jobs.”

Chitwood also addressed the board about the expansion of the workforce program.

He noted childcare and transportation are the two main challenges preventing potential employees from showing up to work.

Chitwood said the workforce program has been successful in teaching those who have never held a job or have limited work history the soft skills necessary to get and stay employed.

He noted since 2013, there have been 400 go through the 72-hour program with around 300 or 75 percent successfully getting and holding a job or continuing their education.

The expanded workforce program attaches a $12,000 incentive for a company to hire the participant.

The county pays 100 percent of the apprentice wage the first month, 75 the second, 50 the third and 25 the fourth.

“We’re going to take the risk,” Chitwood said. “We know you’re hiring somebody with a sketchy work history, but we’re confident of our data and therefore we’re going to take the majority of that risk, which is in the first month. We have safeguards built into the program to keep any company — and I don’t think any of our companies would be inclined to do this — but to keep them from using up a person and then dropping them and wanting another one. We’re not going to allow that. But I do think this is a way we can penetrate some of the areas where there is not enough people working. We have a lower than the national average and lower than the state average of workforce participation in Mississippi County. We need to get that up.”

He added more companies are becoming “more progressive in hiring non-violent felons.”

County Judge John Alan Nelson said he has worked with several groups on the expanded workforce program, with some seeming excited at first and then lamenting that they weren’t guaranteed a job after going through the free training.

“They didn’t like the fact that there is some risk, which was very frustrating to me because you’re talking about 72 hours,” Nelson said. “They don’t want to go through the training and think maybe nothing will happen.”

Scott pointed out that they are making them ready for the workforce to make it easier to find a job.

“We’re making them ready for the job, not making the job ready for them,” Scott said.

Chitwood added, “I don’t really know a good counter-argument to that except those states that guarantee a job to everyone, they pick everybody up in a truck every morning and you get on the truck or they shoot you. Joseph Stalin guaranteed everybody in the Soviet Union a job and a shovel or a hammer and they all had a job. But nobody wants to live in that society. We live in a free-market society.”

Meanwhile, the Industrial Advisory Breakfast is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., Friday, June 28 at Arkansas Northeastern College’s new Center for Allied Technologies, with the goal of educating local industries on the W.O.R.K. program, subsidized wage program and industrial training and grant information.