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36th Hempstead County Economic Development meeting and luncheon hears reports on county’s progress, Tyson expansion

Ownership and management of SWArkToday receive the New Investor Award at Tuesday’s Hempstead County Economic Development Industry Meeting and Luncheon. From left are Steve Lance, Vice-President of HCEDC; Bren Yocom, General Manager of SWARK.Today, Shelly Short, Advertising Manager, Jim Hawley owner and Mark Ross, owner.

Taking place in Hempstead Hall around the noon hour Tuesday was the 36th Annual Hempstead County Economic Development Industry Meeting and Luncheon. Awards were given and speeches made in which the couple hundred seated at tables could learn of the county’s industrial progress and the means for having it continue.

One of the awards given in the second half of the meeting, New Investor of the Year, went to SWARK.Today, a Hope-based media company that produces a news website and performs other services in using media technology to serve local businesses and agencies. Steve Lance, Vice-Chairman of HCEDC, having invited the ownership and management of SWArk to come up to the podium said he was speaking in Gary Chambless, a Hope hotel owner’s, place. Chambless could not attend Tuesday’s luncheon for health reasons.

“Jim [Hawley] and Mark [Ross], we appreciate you starting this company, and it’s growing before our eyes,” Lance said. “We just wish you the best, and continued success. Thank you for your interest in being an EDC member today.”

Lance said Chambless, who used to employ SWARK Today General Manager Bren Yocom and Advertising Manager Shelly Short at Western Sizzlin’, said he was proud of them and that Yocom “wasn’t afraid of anything. She even stood up to ol’ Perry Campbell himself.”

Lance ended by congratulating SWARK, thanking it for its support and welcoming it as a new EDC member.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s presentations, after allowing time to allow attendees to enjoy a lunch of catfish and chicken tenders with hushpuppies and coleslaw, HCEDC Chairman LaDell Douglas called a business meeting of the organization to order. The meeting saw the approval of 2021 minutes and financial reports then moved to HCEDC President Steve Harris’ report on the county’s economic progress and the organization’s work over the past year.

Harris said the county had seen no major closures and four major expansions at New Millenium, Pafford, Brentwood and Tyson’s. “I’m happy to report this year,” he said, “That our manufacturing base is in good shape. We’re moving forward in recruiting efforts, Danson’s last year. We had several projects this year, and we’re still working a couple of active projects with new industry coming in.”

Harris also mentioned workforce improvement efforts, involving Hope High School with Bobcat Works, which he described as “back on track” after a curtailment of its efforts during the worst of the pandemic. “We’ve had several students placed in the spring and we’re ready to stary placing students again this fall.”  Harris invited attendees to the meeting and luncheon to come tomorrow to the 1:30 p.m. meeting in the Hope High cafeteria where students interested in being hired as interns will be available for prospective employers to meet. He asked employers who might want to hire Bobcat Works participants to contact the HCEDC office (1-870-777-8485).

Another workforce improvement effort, Harris said, has been an effort by working with ACT and the Southwest Arkansas Development Alliance to support the National Career Readiness Certificate program. He said 455 tests had been taken thus far to attain the certificate. Harris said this meant the program was 88 percent of the way toward being certified.

Switching to macroeconomics, Harris said there’d been a 100 percent rate of predicting recessions based on reversed Yield Curves. (According to Forbes.com, “a yield curve is a tool that helps you understand bond markets, interest rates and the health of the U.S. economy as a whole. With a yield curve, you can easily visualize and compare how much investors are earning from short-term and long-term bonds—most notably U.S. Treasuries, which set the tune for the rest of the economy.”

Yield curves are reversed, according to Forbes, when “the rates for shorter-term maturities are higher than those for longer-term maturities, that creates an inverted yield curve. In this case, the yield curve slopes down to the right instead of up. This can indicate a recession or bear market, where the market may experience prolonged declines in bond prices and yields.”

Harris said, “I think we’re in that situation [recession], but hopefully it will be a short-lived recession.” He pointed to the county’s lower than the state average unemployment rate as an encouraging sign of the recession’s being mild.

At the end of the report, the official meeting of the organization adjourned and the annual meeting speaker and awards ceremony began.

The guest speaker was Randy King, Tyson Plant Manager, who said the local processing plant was now in the process of adding a new county road that would itself allow for the plant’s expansion by one new building. The new hatchery on Rocky Mound Road, King said, would be on line by January of 2024. Old hatcheries in Nashville and Hope, he said, would be torn down.

He also described, along with a slide show, the steps of the process culminating in the new feed mill’s construction. The plant’s recently completed 160-feet high feed mill near Fulton, dedicated in June, employs about 62. King said this included having to hire “five or six” more truck drivers than was anticipated and declared that “hiring truck drivers is a challenge.”

Currently, King said, the combination of plants in Hope and Nashville process 1,980,000 chickens per week. By January 2024, as a result of expansions, King said that number would go up to roughly 2,600,000. The company hopes to grow from 37 million to 42 million processed a week. “We are a growing company,” King said. “We take the challenge to create more protein and it’s been an awesome ride being part of that.”

King said 48 percent of the company’s 1,350 “team members” working in the Hempstead County facilities are from the county. “That’s pretty awesome,” he said, adding that about 100 to 110 new houses for raising chickens would need to be built for Tyson despite the challenges of inflation.

King ended by saying that after two years of being below it, his plant complex had finally reached its desired number of employees last week.

In answer to a two-part question from EDC board member Mark Ross, King said the amount of time a truck had to wait to be filled with feed at the new mill was now three minutes, reduced from 20-25 minutes at the old mill as a result of the automation in the new one. King said the new mill’s rail spur allows 110 cars of corn or soy to be unloaded in 9 ½ hours. He also said it takes his Tyson plant about two weeks to hire a new worker.

Awards given out by the organization included the following:

  • Dwane and Catherine Rowe, local farmers, were presented a New Investor Award.
  • SWARK.Today, as noted, also won a New Investor Award.
  • Danson’s, a provider of wood pellets for operating grills and, more recently, the grills themselves, won New Industry of the Year.
  • Tyson Foods won Existing Industry of the Year.
  • Pafford won Home Grown Industry of the Year.

To end the meeting, DR. LaDell Douglas urged the attendees to vote for the 1/4 cent sales tax which will appear on Hempstead County ballots for November 8th’s election. The tax would help finance continued work by the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation.

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