Crittenden County Coalesces Around Mega Site Push

Crittenden County Coalesces Around Mega Site Push
Woody Wheeless
Crittenden County Judge (Mark Friedman)

Crittenden County and key communities are banding together in an effort to draw big business.

The county and the cities of Marion and West Memphis have passed a joint, cooperative economic development resolution to promote 1,800 undeveloped acres as a "mega site" to attract large industry to the area.

The unified approach is a departure from the past, said Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless, when the communities came at projects separately only to watch as major companies, including automakers, located their plants with competitors in other states.

"This is something I've said for many years that we need to do in order to have an opportunity to be in the game competing with somebody else," Wheeless said.

The undeveloped land includes a 1,465-acre site at Kuhn Road and Hino Boulevard in Marion, a 35-acre site at the IDI Interstate Commerce Center on Martin Luther King Drive in West Memphis and 300-acre site on West Memphis' Airport Road.

Wheeless said the intent is to have the mega site classification in hand and to be promoting the land to interested parties within the year. In addition to the county-city teamwork, Wheeless said the group is working with Entergy Arkansas and the certifying Arkansas Economic Development Commission to check the boxes necessary to earn the mega site certification.

"We just believe if we partner with them and all of us pull together and have a site we classify as 'shovel ready,' we push ourselves that much higher up the ladder to have large business come in here and locate in our county," Wheeless said.

While Wheeless said the locality isn't competing for a specific business, Crittenden County has lost out to regional competitors in the past.

In March, Toyota-Mazda selected Huntsville, Alabama, as the location for its joint-venture vehicle manufacturing plant, with a potential for 4,000 jobs, after considering Crittenden County. In 2007 Toyota passed the county by and chose Tupelo, Mississippi, for its assembly plant.

"All of this stuff is within a couple hundred miles of us and so we've got to put ourselves in a position where we can compete with these areas," Wheeless said.

Mega site definitions vary among the states, but in essence it means localities have taken care of planning, zoning, title work, surveys, environmental studies, soil analysis and infrastructure engineering. Wheeless said these are the things the community is working on and hopes to have accomplished before the year is out.

A location is expected to be at least 1,000 acres and be located near major highways and rail lines. All three plots within the Crittenden County site are close to Interstates 40 or 55, the Union Pacific Railyard and are not far from the Mississippi River or the Port of West Memphis.

Having the land "shovel ready" for construction, a large enough supply of quality workers and the commitment of local owners and governments are also key factors.

The county-city unity is important, Wheeless said, because, among other things, it can help establish a predetermined, agreed-upon sale price per acre that an incoming business would not have to negotiate with individual property owners.

Current Arkansas mega sites include the 1,925-acre I-40 Industrial Site at Carlisle, the 4,000-acre Helena Harbor Industrial Complex at Helena-West Helena, the 2,045-acre I-530 Megasite at Hensley, the 1,500-acre Bioplex in Jefferson County, the 1,750-acre Entergy Site at Marion, the 1,500-acre Entergy Site 34 in Mississippi County and the 1,313-acre Great River Super Site at Osceola. 

If the mega site certification is achieved, Wheeless said, it is possible other property owners might come on board and make the Crittenden location one of the largest and most attractive potential industry locations in the state.

"Potentially, Crittenden County has that advantage over anybody else in the state because we've done our work and have our site certified. … All they have to do is come in here and purchase that site and build on it because we have everything else ready," he said.