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Here’s to the Voters (Editorial)

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Decades of vision, planning, collaboration and toil are coming to fruition in Arkansas as the state’s steel industry levels up again with construction of a new $3 billion steel mill for U.S. Steel Corp. of Pittsburgh. 

But one cohort crucial to the success deserves praise, too: the citizens of Mississippi County. In 2003, county voters approved a half-percent sales tax for economic development, with proceeds going toward infrastructure improvements, employee training and, of course, attracting companies to the county. The tax had been proposed by the Great River Economic Development Foundation.

Facing a rising county unemployment rate, the foundation said it didn’t have enough money to compete with other counties that could throw money at industries looking to come to a city.

The tax barely passed that year, 1,583 to 1,520, but voters have renewed twice, including in 2021, just before U.S. Steel, having bought Big River Steel for a combined $1.5 billion over two deals in 2019 and 2020, announced plans for another steel mill there that will create 900 good-paying direct and indirect jobs.

Last year, Assistant Editor Kyle Massey wrote about these kinds of city and county economic development taxes, which are rare in Arkansas. Besides Mississippi County, only a handful of places in Arkansas — Clark and Woodruff counties, along with the cities of Newport, Wynne, Crossett and Paragould — have them. Proponents like Jon Chadwell, Newport’s economic development chief, indicate that key stakeholders — utilities, state economic development agencies, siting specialists and companies — might be more likely to take a city or county “a little more seriously” because of the economic commitment it’s made.

And indeed, no one would doubt the commitment made by the citizens of Mississippi County, who have steadily supported a growing industry on the verge of making the county the top steel producer in the country. It’s a good investment that’s paying dividends. Well played. 

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