While she didn’t have any blockbuster announcements about new industries locating in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County immediately, Lou Ann Nisbett said Tuesday she “hopes to make announcements about a lot of new industries in 2014.”
The president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County was the speaker at the monthly Coffee with the Chief’s program, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration and held at Pine Hill Baptist Church.
“We’ve had over 34 prospect visits and 90 percent of them are manufacturing,” Nisbett said. “We have five existing industries looking to expand and 80 percent of job growth is through existing companies.”
Nisbett said she and a lot of others were “disappointed” with the closure of Horizon Foods and the loss of those jobs, but “it looks like a new company is going to come in and take over.”
She said she couldn’t disclose the name of the company, but they expected to be able to start with about 100 jobs and eventually employ 300 people.
Regarding existing industry, Nisbett said one of the main goals of the Alliance is business retention and expansion.
“We can’t afford to lose another industry,” she said.
As part of that effort, representatives of the Alliance visit every existing industry annually to talk about what they need and what the Alliance can do for them.
Working with the Jefferson County Manufacturing Council, the Alliance has produced a video encouraging students to receive training in the technology current and future businesses will need.
“They’re not your traditional manufacturing jobs anymore,” Nisbett said.
She said she meets quarterly with Jefferson County Judge Dutch King and the mayors of Pine Bluff, White Hall and Redfield to talk about issues common to all of them, including job creation and retention.
“We never had that before until this new bunch came in,” she said.
Nisbett said there is a huge competition between cities all over the country trying to attract new industries and credited the economic development sales tax approved by county voters two years ago as a way to “level the playing field.”
Asked what would disqualify a city from consideration, Nisbett said “things you wouldn’t even think of,” citing as an example crime rates which industry representatives, called “site selectors,” can obtain from the Internet.
Nisbett said the numbers available are those of the entire Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes three counties and nine prisons.
“That’s not fair and I let them (site selectors) know that,” she said.
Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said Nisbett was correct about the MSA’s, but also said his department “has been reporting crime incorrectly for probably two decades.
“We’ve been over reporting,” Hubanks said. “Yes, we do have crime, but now when we’re reporting crime stats we’re reporting them correctly.”
Hubanks said previously, when the department reported crime to federal authorities, they included every crime associated with one incident, rather than focus on just the primary incident.
As an example, he said a residential burglary could also include other offenses like theft of property, criminal mischief and others when the only thing the federal standards required was the burglary itself.