South Arkansas offers advantages beyond its mineral-rich underground water, Standard Lithium Ltd. CEO Robert Mintak says.
It has a business-friendly reputation, a regulatory framework overseen by the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission, and deep capabilities in chemical and energy production. It’s also within driving distance of many chemical reagents required for producing lithium.
The region’s workforce has 60 years of experience with brine and bromine, and local colleges, including Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, provide advanced training.
SAU President Trey Berry expects the lithium rush to stimulate the school’s engineering, chemistry and business programs. “We have mechanical engineering, and we have an emphasis in chemical engineering as well,” Berry said. “These will fit right in with what’s going on. We have over 200 students in our engineering program, and we’re hearing from industry partners down here that they need homegrown engineers who will stay and invest in communities.
“Our chemistry program is strong, and our College of Business will benefit from lithium,” he continued. “Hopefully, we can give these companies accountants and managers and supply chain people.”
Magnolia’s economic development chief, Ellie Baker, said she and Mayor Parnell Vann have been in high gear since Albemarle Corp. and PotlatchDeltic Corp. announced major expansions in town last year.
Albemarle’s plans for two bromine facility expansions call for 250 contractors over five years, and 100 permanent new jobs.
Sidewalk grants helped make the town more walkable, and last year the City Council approved buying a 12-acre site that once was Pittman Nursery on North Dudney Road.
“The icing was the location,” Baker said. It’s in the heart of town, just blocks from the high school, hospital and doctors’ offices. The property has been cleared to build housing. “It’s in the beginning stages … but at least we have a goal and real property to work with.”
During Vann’s four terms as mayor, about 90 miles of city streets have been repaved, and more paving is scheduled. Garver, the North Little Rock engineering firm, worked up a 20-year plan for zoning and code enforcement. Downtown building owners and merchants are brainstorming on tourism and economic vitality, and an entertainment district was approved.
The city funded a $1.2 million project incorporating a splash pad and skate park in Eastside Park. Both are set to open on Labor Day.
“I thank God every day for our natural resources, specifically bromine, timber, oil and gas,” said Baker, who is eager to add lithium to the list. “But our focus right now is on what we have in hand.” The Albemarle and PotlatchDeltic expansions total $671 million and could deliver more than 500 jobs.