Economic development officials from Columbia, Ouachita, Union and Calhoun County presented updates on recent achievements at the second quarterly meeting of the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council at Smackover City Hall on Wednesday, April 20.
Britta Clark presented a report on economic development in Columbia County report for an absent Ellie Baker.
"Whataburger has opened with record breaking numbers in Magnolia they have averaged 35,000 orders each day during their first week," Clark said, adding that Baker told her it was "the highest opening record for Whataburger."
Clark noted several parcels of real estate that were recently purchased by businesses located outside of Magnolia and said the city is looking into building middle-income housing.
She also stated that Columbia County had participated in the ACT Work Ready Community bootcamp and that Columbia County was on the way to being certified as a Work Ready Community. The ACT Work Ready program is a workforce initiative communities across the state can participate in to shore up local workforces to help attract companies. A career fair was recently held at Magnolia High School, also, she said.
James Lee Silliman, director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development, presented a report on Ouachita County.
"I continue to work on several different prospects for Camden and Ouachita County. I'm cautiously optimistic we are going to see the fruits of a lot of people's labors paying off fairly soon," he said.
Silliman noted that one prospect has invested " a considerable amount of money" that is non-refundable for land options.
"It would have a pretty substantial impact on the timber industry in south Arkansas, " he added.
Silliman spoke about construction within Camden on a two story building that will be, at least in part, a wholesale electric business.
He also said the International Paper mill site, which was vacant after the 2002 shutdown of the company, has seen new life as an intermodal park shipping everything from lumber to barley.
Additionally, a recent infrastructure project in downtown Camden cost several hundred thousand dollars, Silliman said
James Nixon reported for Calhoun County, stating that production at Highland Industrial Park was high, but work force issues continued to plague the industries.
"Defense is going well right now. The park is full. One of the companies said they need 40 people and... that they need to hire 80-1oo people," he said. "They've got contracts, they've got work. We'll get through this."
Bill Luther, executive director of the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce, provided an update on an ongoing project to widen Hillsboro Street. The Arkansas Department of Transportation has started property acquisition in the area, and while the project is somewhat behind schedule, progress is being made, Luther said.
"The project was supposed to turn dirt of June of next year. Utilities are a bit slow," he said.
Economic development efforts in Union County do continue, however, Luther said, noting that Shaw Industries, a carpet manufacturing company, purchase the factory previously utilized by Chicago Bridge and Iron.
"On the jobs front, I have some positive news," Luther said, going on to say 148 unionized metal workers from around the country had been hired.
The Golden Triangle meeting was held the same day as the Chamber's annual meeting, and Luther said he gave Rex Nelson, the latter meeting's keynote speaker and a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a tour of the city.