Marion Learns Lessons, Sees Major Manufacturer in Future

(Click here to see the list of the state's industrial parks.)

Over the past six months, one of Arkansas' industrial parks made news across America.

That was the Railport Industrial Park at Marion, which came close to winning the $750 million Toyota Motor Corp. truck assembly plant that will instead be built in San Antonio.

Kay Brockwell, Marion's economic development director, said she learned some valuable lessons during the competition for the plant. And she expects those lessons to pay off — and soon.

"I'd just about bet my next week's paycheck that we'll have a major manufacturer by the end of the year," Brockwell said. Indeed, other auto-related industries have looked at the site, but she said she couldn't disclose who those companies were.

Marion boasts a world-class site on a prime location. The industrial park has five major railroads, two interstate highways and proximity to an international airport and the Mississippi River.

What it didn't have BT (before Toyota) was recognition. But the Toyota race changed everything.

"We're not just another little town in a Southern state anymore," Brockwell said. "This site has proven to have the facilities and qualifications that major manufacturers require."

Brockwell used to try and get face time with business site consultants in Atlanta. She would make contact with a dozen and get only one appointment. But AT (after Toyota), she's made four calls and received three appointments.

"It certainly raised our profile," Brockwell said. "Marion had never been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal before or on CNN. It's advertising we could not have bought."

Arkansas lost the battle for the Toyota plant, but Brockwell has learned some lessons that will help her down the road.

"Seeing what's really important to a manufacturer of this magnitude is the biggest lesson I learned," Brockwell said. "The quality of life and community issues were not as big of an issue as I thought they would be. The proximity of Memphis was a big deal."

Downtown Memphis is only 15 minutes from Marion, and Memphis International Airport can be reached in 20 minutes.

"What impressed Toyota the most was that, unlike most large industrial sites, you don't have to drive 20 miles down a back road to get to it," Brockwell said. It has the initial infrastructure in place — the water and sewer lines run along the edge of the site.

The site has never been used for anything except agriculture, she said. There are no environmental issues to be resolved. There are no endangered species at the site. It is of no historical significance. "And it's flatter than a tabletop."

Does Brockwell have any advice to other industrial recruiters in the state?

"Be ready to react quickly. If you don't know the answer, tell them that — but be ready to find out the answer in a hurry."

The Bioplex

One of the state's newest and larger parks is the 1,398-acre Jefferson County Bioplex, which the Economic Develop-ment Alliance at Pine Bluff hopes to turn into a high-tech park that focuses on biotechnology and telecommunications.

The land for the park was a gift from the federal government in 2001 — unused land that belonged to the Pine Bluff Arsenal and borders the Food and Drug Administration's National Center for Toxicological Research complex on both sides.

Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. installed enhanced telecommunications infrastructure near NCTR several years ago, and preliminary feasibility studies are under way by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for new highway access into The Bioplex from Interstate 530.

There are other high-tech labs in the area that could help attract more ventures. The Pine Bluff Arsenal has a new $18 million Chemical Defense Quality Evaluation Facility that houses laboratories to test chemical defense equipment. And it's hoping to land another multimillion dollar facility under consideration by the Department of Defense — a national vaccine production operation.

NCTR, with some 100 Ph.D.-level research scientists and another 475 contract and civil service workers, is part of The Jefferson Laboratories of the FDA, which along with the new Arkansas Regional Laboratory, is being developed by FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs into one of five "mega labs" in the nation. When fully operational in fiscal 2004, the 146,000-SF, $43 million ARL will be staffed with 120 research personnel providing analytical support in chemistry and microbiology.

Redfield Laboratories is a 68,000-SF private pre-clinical toxicology research facility near The Bioplex. Owned by Charles River Laboratories of Wilmington, Mass., the lab has 100 employees.