The construction of a new 2.1 million dollar Arkansas River Resource Center is heralding future economic development opportunities for the Port of Little Rock, according to city and federal officials. As KUAR’s Chris Hickey reports, the center’s presence is just one piece of a site that has become an economic engine for Central Arkansas.
Port Authority members, city directors, state and federal bureaucrats and private developers crowded into a new tugboat-shaped conference room overlooking the Arkansas River to hear tales of the economic dream that became Little Rock’s Port. The new building on the site was made possible through a 960 thousand dollar grant from the Economic Development Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Addressing the ceremony’s attendees, former Port Authority director Paul Latture recounted how he first struck up a relationship with the EDA in the late 90’s.
“We flew to Austin, [Texas] and we talked to Pedro. And we told Pedro that we really, really needed a dock on the Slackwater Harbor,” Latture said.
Pedro Garza is the 5-state regional director of the EDA. He worked with Little Rock’s Port Authority on what turned into a series of grants to improve infrastructure there, which Latture says has led to a half a billion dollars of private investment over the years. Garza himself praised the work of local leaders in helping to make the port a vibrant center of industry.
“When there is civic leadership, when there is local investment, when the community cares about a shared quality of life, you see great things happen,” Garza said.
The Port boasts a workforce of 4,500, a Foreign Trade Zone, a 190 foot dock at the Slack Water Harbor for loading and unloading barges and 17 miles of railroad.
Companies that have established bases in the Port's Industrial Park include Wellspun Tubular, LM Wind Power and Skippy Peanut Butter. The new Arkansas River Resource center will serve as base of operations for the Port Authority, which was previously housed at the site of an East Little Rock Fire Station. The Authority is tasked with attracting more companies and further developing infrastructure along the river. After speeches and a ribbon cutting, Bryan Day, newly named executive director of the Port, explained that the new building will serve to showcase the port's amenities.
"If someone calls and says hey we want to come and build widgets at the Little Rock Port, we will bring them and host them here in this great building, talk about what we have to offer, talk about the benefits of locating here and then hopefully send them off with the commitment that they'll come back with more information," Day said.
Day also talked of what’s on the wish list.
“We would like to expand our dock. We would like to expand our rail service. We need to continue to prepare land by moving utilities to unused land so that industry can locate here easily and quickly,” he said.
Day said, as they finish settling into the new building, his staff will start to focus on that next project.