Lou Ann Nisbett is the president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County.
She was the executive director of the Marshall Economic Development Corp. in Texas between 2002 and 2006. In September 2006, she became president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, where her duties include overseeing the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson County Manufacturing Council. She is president of the board of directors of the Arkansas Economic Developers and was named the Arkansas Economic Developer of the Year in 2012. Nisbett also is a member of the International Economic Development Council.
Do you have any updates on the Bioplex, which was touted as a place for industry, academia and the government to come together to share technology and improve educational resources?
The Bioplex is next door to the National Center for Toxicological Research and is ready for the next phase of growth. We propose building a LEED-certified facility for companies wishing to do business with or spinning out of NCTR, which is ramping up tech transfer at its campus, which includes 30 buildings spanning 1 million SF and more than $20 million in capital equipment.
What’s left of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, and what does that mean for Pine Bluff and the state?
It’s a common misconception that the Pine Bluff Arsenal has closed. I think that arose from the fact that when the URS Corp. completed chemical weapons destruction there in 2011, over 1,000 contract employees “worked themselves out of a job.” And there has been a reduction in force. But the arsenal remains in operation. It is the only active U.S. Army installation in Arkansas and one of Jefferson County’s largest industrial employers. It’s a world leader in production, rebuild and storage capability for smoke ammunitions and chemical-biological defense equipment. The arsenal currently has over 700 employees with a $50 million annual payroll.
What features of Pine Bluff do you tout when trying to attract an industry to the city?
Pine Bluff/Jefferson County has a lot to offer in heavy infrastructure; transportation access with highways, river and rail; diverse industries; two colleges; and a history of diverse manufacturing. Great buildings and sites are available here and going fast. With new industry activity up in Jefferson County, many of our industrial buildings are selling that were empty for years, and new development will begin to evolve into very exciting projects for our community.
What industries are you targeting?
We target our own industries first for expansion and then we go after industries that are looking for a new location centrally located in the nation. Advanced manufacturing and biotech are some of our targets.
How do you persuade a company to come to Jefferson County?
Having incentives to work with, we can entice new industry to locate here, but more important is the ability to help existing industries expand. We have seven existing industries looking at some form of expansion over the next two years. This will be a capital investment of over $70 million. Jefferson County has one of the strongest business retention and expansion programs in the state. Every industry is visited annually and surveyed, and industry managers and directors meet monthly to talk and learn ways to address issues or concerns.
Pine Bluff’s population is about 47,000, down from about 57,000 in 1990. How has the population decline affected the recruitment of business?
Just remember, it did not get this way overnight, and it will take time to turn it around. I truly believe more growth and better days are coming to this area because of the people and leadership that will not give up.