Arkansas Tells ABF Freight: Think About West Memphis for Terminal Move

by Marty Cook  on Tuesday, Jun. 3, 2014 10:31 am  

Grant Tennille and ADED wants ABF Freight to consider West Memphis for its new terminal. (Photo by Mike Pirnique)

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe told union representatives he would not support cash incentives for ArcBest Corp.'s new Fort Smith headquarters after subsidiary ABF Freight said it is considering moving its North Little Rock distribution center to Memphis.

Instead, the state is encouraging ABF to consider moving to the West Memphis area, if it moves from North Little Rock at all.

"We haven't got too far down that road," Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said Monday. "We asked, 'Can you be close to Memphis and accomplish what you need to accomplish?' You can be in Memphis without being in Memphis. We brought that up and they indicated a willingness to look at it."

News about the likely closing of the North Little Rock operation came a week before ArcBest announced on Friday its plans to build a $30 million corporate headquarters and data center on 40 acres at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith. ArcBest will receive $16 million to $19 million over 10 years from the state's Create Rebate, a tax refund dependent upon the expected creation of 975 jobs.

The Create Rebate for the ArcBest headquarters would not be affected by ABF Freight's move out of state, said Tennille, who spoke at ArcBest's news conference announcing the project.

Beebe didn't attend the Friday news conference. His office said it would be inappropriate for him to do so while ABF Freight was considering moving jobs out of Arkansas.

Tennille said the state had been working on the Fort Smith project for more than a year when it learned of ABF's interest in an expansion at Memphis, where the subsidiary already has a facility. A Memphis economic development group offered the company $4 million to move its North Little Rock hub, part of $20.5 million plan that would enlarge the existing center and add 283 jobs.

Executives with ArcBest and ABF Freight say they haven't made a final decision about the move. The company closed or consolidated eight facilities in the fourth quarter of 2013 and 22 since January.

"Having the issue in North Little Rock play into that came up in the last 10 days, as we were getting ready to make the announcement in Fort Smith," Tennille said. "That compelled us to reapproach the company and say we need to talk about this as well."

Tim Nichols, the president of Teamsters Local 878, said Monday that he and two other union representatives met with Beebe last Tuesday to discuss ways to save the North Little Rock facility, which has about 380 union employees. Nichols said matching Memphis' offer wouldn't help because the attraction of Memphis is its close proximity to the interstate and railroad system and the Mississippi River.

"Gov. Beebe was open to provide any kind of assistance or support the state could do through his office," Nichols said. "The operational savings by the company far exceeds anything the state or city could offer. It was not good news."

ABF Freight CEO Roy Slagle met with Teamsters employees in a town hall-style meeting at the North Little Rock facility on May 28. Slagle reiterated to the Teamsters, who represent 3,000 workers in 18 companies throughout Arkansas, that no decision has been reached and no move was expected for 12-15 months, Nichols said.



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