The announcement by Trex would have marked the last possible purchase of a large site at the Port of Little Rock, as the facility was simply running out of room to expand.
But a concerted effort to relocate an important piece of air navigation technology has created wide horizons for the port and its future.
A handful of years ago, Little Rock Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day noticed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) VOR Cone — a short-range aircraft radio navigation system — sitting on port property. The system, in use by commercial flights and the C-130s at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, had occupied the location since 1946, before the Port of Little Rock was established.
“I said, ‘What is that thing? We need to move it,’” Day said.
Little did Day know what he was asking for. However, an effort that ultimately involved Little Rock Regional Chamber President and CEO Jay Chesshir, Congressmen French Hill and John Boozman (as well as other local officials), the FAA, the Secretary of the Air Force, the federal government and numerous other entities, kicked the VOR Cone’s relocation into gear.
“As we’ve grown and evolved over the past 60 years, we’ve run out of land for us to continue to grow,” Day said. “We’ve got to relocate that facility.”
Prodding an initially reluctant FAA, the numerous supporters of the move eventually landed an agreement to move the VOR Cone at port expense to a 110-acre site near the Galloway exit on Interstate 40.
“The port has the most to gain, but we could not have done it without the chamber,” Day said. “Jay Chesshir has been an equal partner. We’ve flown to D.C., we’ve had monthly conference calls, we’ve flown to Dallas.”
With a combination of port, federal, state, county and city funds, plus grants, totalling close to $5 million, the port is developing the site for the VOR Cone’s relocation. Though progress was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the port had, by the end of 2021, built a road, done dirt work and run utilities for the 5,000-SF block building it hoped to begin constructing in spring of 2022.
When that is finished, Day said, the FAA will install, program and test its equipment, currently being stored at the port. Day was optimistic the port could “shut the lights off” on the old facility close to mid-2023. The result is that the FAA will get an upgraded facility and the Port will get the additional acreage it needs.
The acquisition of the VOR Cone site adds 55 acres to the nearly 1,000 recently acquired through purchase or donation and will contribute to Day’s vision of a 1,200-plus acre “super-site” served by two Class I railroads, sitting just off the interstate and on the banks of the Arkansas River, which can move commodities to the world through the Port of New Orleans.
Day couldn’t predict what tenants might set up shop on such a site, but he referenced a car plant on a similar sized site in Tennessee that created 6,000 jobs.
He called the site an economic development prospect never before seen in central Arkansas.
“We believe, and no one’s told me different, there won’t be a better industrial super-site in the region than the Port of Little Rock,” Day said.