Alliance working to keep Entergy jobs

A proposal that could save more than 90 high paying jobs that are expected to be lost in Jefferson County when Entergy Arkansas closes its Pine Bluff Operations Center in 2015 will be offered to company officials by the Economic Development Corp. for Jefferson County.

The corporation, also known as the tax board, is charged with administering money collected from the three-eights cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2011.

“A lot of businesses that started here have left here without someone trying to keep them,” said George Makris, chairman of the corporation. “We’re going to do what we can to try and keep them here.”

On Oct. 10, Entergy announced it would close the operations center here in the first half of 2015. The company is consolidating six systems operations centers in multiple states into two, one in Little Rock, the other in Jackson, Miss.

Entergy spokeswoman Diane Tatum said the Pine Bluff facility is the largest in the system and the lease on the building will expire in 2015.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, said the jobs that will be leaving are high paying jobs, and the proposal reviewed by corporation board members Monday indicated that the average pay for the employees was $30 per hour.

The incentive package assumes that an investment of $10 million to $15 million for a building, equipment and security will be necessary, and offers infrastructure assistance of $600,000, plus an additional $300,000 for 10 to 20 acres of land at $15,000 an acre, or to lease land to the company at $1 per acre for 50 years.

“There are two possibilities for land and those are the industrial park and the bioplex and we own land in both, “Makris said. “If they choose the bioplex, there’s no infrastructure there so we could use this project to do a lot of infrastructural improvements to set up other projects. We need a first anchor to set up more.”

An additional $25,000 is being offered to pay the cost of a bond attorney for Entergy, bringing the total package to $925,000, and an additional $100,000 could be available from the state and the Arkansas Economic Development Corp. in the form of a refund on state and local sales taxes for materials used in construction or buildings, modernizations or improvements, and machinery or equipment.

“We think this is reasonable but we don’t know what their needs are,” Makris said.

Nisbett said the building currently used by Entergy is “old and the equipment is antiquated.”

She said 53 percent of the people currently employed there live in the county and another 10 percent are from Southeast Arkansas.

The board gave Makris authority to negotiate a possible incentive package with Entergy, which originally began as Arkansas Light and Power at Pine Bluff in the early 1900s.

In its first year, the economic development tax generated $3,426,571 and Makris reported that collections for July, which were received in September, were above those collected for the same month a year ago.

The Economic Development Corp. has previously offered incentive packages to Horizon Foods and Vivione Biosciences, both of which have generated new jobs in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.