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OPINION | ANDREW MOREAU: Old tulip farm cements North Little Rock as transportation hub

by Andrew Moreau | June 26, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

Dust floats through the air on the far eastern edge of North Little Rock, adjacent to the gleaming Amazon distribution center, as heavy construction equipment lumbers through farm fields to make way for the area’s future.

The former tulip farm east of Galloway on U.S. 70 is cementing North Little Rock’s reputation as vital transportation hub, building on the city’s founding as a railroad town in the 1800s. Union Pacific Railroad still operates one of the nation’s largest engine repair facilities in the city.

Transportation remains central to the city’s growth though nowadays it pulls in warehouse and distribution facilities signifying a restructuring of the nation’s supply chain logistics.

The 450-acre tract, by 2025, will house three Fortune 100 companies and feature 4 million square feet of facilities providing more than 3,000 jobs and representing a $400 million investment.

“The amazing story is that has been just a piece of farmland forever,” said Robert Birch, director of economic development for the city of North Little Rock. “We’re going to have 3,000 jobs on that one 450-acre piece of land. That speaks to what North Little Rock can do as a city and it supports the transportation hub that we have.” Amazon opened a more than 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center last September with Lowe’s and Dollar General following with announcement to build similar-sized facilities next to each other.

Lowe’s has started construction at the site and plans to begin shipping appliances and high-deliverable products out of the distribution center by fall 2023. Dollar General plans to begin work next year and its facility will have refrigerated space and is central to the company’s plans to offer produce as the chain looks to expand into fresh food.

Just as Little Rock’s westward expansion stretched out in the 1980s and ’90s with housing and commercial developments, North Little Rock officials are hoping for a similar boost for the open farmland on its eastern border.

Those warehousing and distribution facilities already are attracting investments for housing developments and the city is hopeful retail and other service industries will follow the companies to the Galloway area.

“What used to be what everybody thought was a farmland gap between here and England is really starting to shape up as the future expansion of North Little Rock,” Birch said. “There’s more land available out in that area and it will continue to grow.” The transportation sector, particularly railroads, has always been the centerpiece for developing North Little Rock and the industry remains a magnet pulling in further growth opportunities. “We’ll have three Fortune 100 companies in that one area,” Birch said. “Transportation is our roots and we’re getting back to our roots in a sense.”

The pandemic has forced the nation’s largest companies to re-evaluate their supply-chain logistics, with many of them deciding to migrate more operations to a U.S. base and diversify from an over-reliance on China. There’s less emphasis on globalization and more on regionalization.

Management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. reported that building regional supply chains remains a priority for most companies. Almost 90% of survey respondents said they expect to pursue some degree of regionalization during the next three years.

North Little Rock is benefiting from the movement.

“From here you can get to anywhere in the country; we’re a logical fit,” Birch said, noting the Galloway exit at Interstate 40 is a major trucking industry focal point and the area also provides proximity to key rail, air and shipping routes. “It makes sense to locate there with the supply chain changes that are taking place in the country.”

FIRST COMMUNITY IN CONWAY

First Community Bank will hold a ground-breaking ceremony 10 a.m. Monday to celebrate plans for its newest location in Conway at 766 Harkrider St.

First Community, based in Batesville, is operating a temporary building at the site with plans to open a full-scale banking center in the third quarter of next year.

“This banking center demonstrates First Community Bank’s ongoing commitment to our community and a place where we can continue to grow for years to come,” Grant Gordy, community president in Conway, said of the two-story complex that will include community amenities such as charging stations for electric cars, a smoothie restaurant, as well as a bike rack and workstation.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION

Arkansas has maintained Silver Shovel status for a second consecutive year.

Area Development, an economic development industry publication, has awarded a 2022 Silver Shovel Award to the state of Arkansas for its success in attracting new businesses and investments.

“This award demonstrates the strength of the economy and business climate in Arkansas,” Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said in a statement. “Arkansas is well-positioned for continued economic growth in the coming year and we look forward to working with businesses looking to move or expand in the Natural State.” Arkansas was recognized in the 3+ to 5 million population category.

Area Development said the state was successful in the number of new jobs to be created in relation to the state’s population, the dollar amount of investments attracted, the number of new facilities and the diversity of industry represented.

The publication took particular note of U.S. Steel’s $3 billion investment in the state, the largest capital investment in Arkansas history. The planned facility was named a manufacturing project of the year by the publication, which called the initiative the most advanced steel mill in North America and will create 900 jobs in Mississippi County.

Arkansas also was highlighted for Vista Outdoor’s expansion in Lonoke, creating 450 jobs; Butterball’s expansion of two processing facilities in Northwest Arkansas, adding 360 jobs; Mars Petcare’s creation of 250 jobs in Fort Smith; and Wipro’s creating 400 information technology jobs at a new facility in Sherwood.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at 501-378-3567.


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