Economic development tax created jobs in 2012

In its first year, the Economic Development Corporation of Jefferson County spent just over $400,000 to create new jobs for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

Also known as the tax board, the corporation was created to administer the three-eighths cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2011 and earmarked for economic development.

First-year collections for the tax reached almost $3.5 million.

In March, the board agreed to purchase refrigeration equipment for Horizon Foods, which took over the old Tyson plant on West Second Avenue and is projected to employ 329 people within three to five years.

The equipment costs $329,000 and Horizon will receive a credit of $1,000 for each job it creates, up to 329, which would cover the entire outlay from the board.

Horizon Foods processes egg laying or spent hens, primarily for foreign markets, and started with a work force of 175. The additional jobs are expected to be created when a second shift is created at the plant.

In May, Vivione Biosciences, L.L.C., a Little Rock based company, moved into laboratory space at the Pine Bluff Arsenal after receiving $73,000 from the tax board.

The company manufactures a new, high-performance diagnostic system targeting health and food safety issues and opened with six employees who are being paid more than $31 per hour. George Makris, chairman of the Economic Development Corporation, said earlier this year he is hopeful the number of employees will grow to 300 by 2016 as the workforce expands to meet anticipated demand for its products.

The board also proposed two other incentive packages designed to save or create jobs in 2012, including one to Entergy Arkansas that would save 90 jobs that Entergy has planned to eliminate by closing its Pine Bluff Operations Center in 2015.

That proposal included the offer of land in the Bioplex, located near the Pine Bluff Arsenal and the National Center for Toxicological Research and owned by the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County.

Briefing the tax board on Dec. 18, Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance, said company officials have toured the proposed site and received the additional information they requested, and she expects Entergy to make a decision in January.

At that same meeting, the board agreed to a proposal that would offer L&R Distributing of Brooklyn, N.Y., up to $1.25 million to create an additional 81 jobs at what is now SAJ Distributors.

The company bought SAJ from Walgreen Co., in November after Walgreen bought the assets of USA Drug from the LaFrance family earlier in the year. Those assets included SAJ Distributors.

L&R hopes to take possession of SAJ by late January or early February, and anticipates there will be 119 employees there when the take over is completed.

The company currently has distribution facilities on the east and west coasts. The Pine Bluff facility would be its largest and have the most potential for expansion, Nisbett said during the meeting on Dec. 18.