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SUNDAY, MARCH 28, 2010

Staying prepared

‘We’ve had the support of a lot of good leadership.’ Harld Perrin mayor of Jonesboro

Many factors are involved when recruiting industry BY CURT HODGES SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — A big part of being able to attract new industry to Jonesboro is being prepared. That phase of industrial recruitment here was handled several years ago with the purchase of several hundred acres of farmland along Arkansas 18 between Jonesboro and Lake City that has become the Jonesboro Technology Industrial Park. That land was bought through the efforts of a number of agencies, including the Chamber of commerce, Jonesboro Unlimited and the Jonesboro Industrial Development Commission. It has paid big dividends. Just buying land was not enough to attract the kinds of industry the city was seeking, local offi-

cials said. It also took a concerted effort among local leadership and infrastructure — roads, highways, natural gas, electricity, water and sewer. There also needed to be a railroad spur into the new industrial park, and that was done through the efforts of all of the agencies involved as well as the City of Jonesboro and Craighead County, all of whose roles have been crucial elements in the city’s and region’s economic growth. “We’ve had the support of a lot of good leadership throughout the history of the city,” Mayor Harold Perrin said.

Going to Washington Perrin and other delegates from the Jonesboro Regional Chamber

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

From right, Steve Sparks of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission joins state Sen. Robert Thompson, John Goodwin of Nicepak, Tony Supine of Farr Air Pollution Control and Mark Young of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Comof Commerce recently returned from the chamber’s annual Washington, D.C., Fly-in. The mayor and others say the annual trip, during which local representatives talk face-to-face with the area’s Congressional delegation and their staffs, have yielded tremendous results in the past. “Highways are always important,” especially interstate and 4-lane roads, said Ed Way, chairman of the chamber’s Transportation Committee. Way said the efforts of the chamber and others

merce participate on an expert panel discussion of Northeast Arkansas business leaders regarding manufacturing in the region during the Northeast Arkansas Industry Matters summit held at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on Oct. 29.

in the community have played major roles in getting highway improvements for the region and continue to play significant roles in the development of U.S. 67, a connector to Jonesboro, the 4-laning of Arkansas 18 to Blytheville (I-55) and 4-laning of U.S. 63 to Walnut Ridge, Hoxie and beyond. Now local officials, with the aid and cooperation of the Congressional delegation and state officials, are busy completing everything that is necessary to get U.S. 63

from I-55 in Crittenden County to the northwest edge of Jonesboro designated as I-555. The U.S. 67 connector will provide not only easier access to Little Rock, but also to Dallas as well via I-30. It provides easier westward access via U.S. 64 to I-40 at Conway, officials said. “Being on an interstate highway is an important factor in industrial recruitment,” Way said. All of those factors are important, said Mark Young, president and chief executive officer of

the chamber. The diversity of the local economy — agriculture, education, medical, retail, manufacturing — has been crucial to providing the stability and growth that has helped the region weather the current economic recession, Young said. “We here have fared much better (than other areas), and that is a tribute to the diversity and leadership that Jonesboro has experienced over the years,” Young said. “Leadership has been a big part of our success and will be a major portion of the future success of the city.”

United we stand Unity is another word that is often heard among the local leaders involved in economic development. “We all work together toward that common goal of creating jobs and quality of life,” Young said. That includes local leaders as well as those on the state and national level. PLEASE SEE INDUSTRY, E2

Nordex riding winds of progress in Northeast Arkansas BY CURT HODGES SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Hiring has already begun as construction continues at the site of Nordex USA’s Jonesboro wind turbine plant, a Nordex official said. Nordex is building on

a 187-acre site on C.W. Post Road. Ground was broken on the new facilities last September in the Jonesboro Technology Industrial Park. The market for renewable energy in the United States is getting stronger, Joe Brenner, vice president for pro-

James Byard | The Sun

Construction continues on the Nordex Jonesboro facility.

YO UR

duction for Nordex USA said. As that market continues to improve it is important for Nordex to be positioned to take advantage of that, and the Jonesboro plant is one of the keys to that goal, he said. “Construction is on schedule and at approximately the 70 percent level,” Brenner said. The nacelle production facility is expected to be completed on time this fall. Hiring has already started for the new production facility with key leadership being put into place, Barbara Smith, human resources manager of the Jonesboro facility, said. Smith said things are accelerating as the company works toward completion of facilities for limited nacelle production to begin with a target

“G OTO ”

date of Sept. 1. Nacelle production is expected to continue to grow for the next 18 months to 200-250 production employees, she said.

Construction is to take place in two phases, officials said, beginning with the nacelle assembly plant and followed by a rotor blade manu-

Training in Europe

‘Construction is on schedule and at approximately the 70 percent level.’

Smith said people in certain positions — such as supply chain supervisor, nacelle production supervisors, other key positions and department heads — will be sent to Germany to shadow their German counterparts and learn about their jobs for production throughout the company to be consistent. She said six of those new employees are now in Germany. When the blade manufacturing plant is completed in late 2013, another 200 to 250 employees will be hired as the staff continues to grow.

Joe Brenner vice president for production, Nordex USA facturing facility. The entire facility, including rotor blade production, will be fully operational by 2014. Officials said additional personnel will be hired before the production date, but the majority of

production workers will be hired when blade production begins. Nordex USA Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Nordex AG, a leading manufacturer of wind turbines for geographic regions across the globe, announced on Oct. 24, 2008, that it would build its U.S. manufacturing facility in Jonesboro. At that time officials said the company would invest about $100 million in the new facility, which was to employ 700 people at an average wage of $17 an hour. At the time Gov. Mike Beebe hailed the announcement as “another important step for our state into the renewableenergy industry.” Nordex CEO Thomas Richterich described the PLEASE SEE NORDEX, E2

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SUNDAY, MARCH 28, 2010

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Cleaning up Jonesboro Nice-Pak providing jobs, education about infection BY ANTHONY CHILDRESS SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Nice-Pak Products Inc. has literally been cleaning up since moving here in late 2008. The company at 1 NicePak Road in the former Haworth office furniture facility at U.S. 63 and Commerce Drive, produces household and baby wipes, as well as sanitary wipes for the medical industry that clean and disinfect, local director of operations and site leader John Goodwin said. Nice-Pak’s 50-plusyear history has been in supplying large retail customers with products sold under their private brands. Nice-Pak also manufactures several brands of its own and began with the first premoistened wipes for the restaurant industry under the Wet Nap brand.

Business-friendly Company officials cited the state’s businessfriendly environment and ready-made facility in choosing Jonesboro. “Gov. Mike Beebe made it very palatable for us to bring this business here, and this site, an exist-

ing site that will work, is something you don’t find very often,” Goodwin said. He said other factors included the resources at Arkansas State University that could be made

‘Gov. Mike Beebe made it very palatable for us to bring this business here, and this site, an existing site that will work, is something you don’t find very often.’ John Goodwin local director of operations and site leader, Nice-Pak Products Inc. available to Nice-Pak as a resource for product innovations and development and many other factors.

Healthy Arkansas The company has linked up with Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe

James Byard | The Sun

Robert Julius, chairman and chief executive officer of Nice-Pak, and the first lady of Arkansas, Ginger Beebe, show the correct usage of wet wipes during the Healthy to promote the Healthy Arkansas Initiative to reduce infection risks due in part to the H1N1 flu scare and flu season with schools in session. Nice-Pak sent representatives to area campuses to share the program with students and faculty, with wipes and dispensers set up at schools and businesses to serve as daily reminders of its goals. “We talk to boys and girls about how bad germs are and how they make you sick,” Debbie Hagberg, Nice-Pak’s medical science liaison, told students at Jones-

boro’s Kindergarten Center last fall. The initiative is a partnership of Gov. Mike Beebe’s office, the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Harold Perrin’s office, area school districts, ASU, St. Bernards Medical Center, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Nice-Pak. Nice-Pak representatives used a germ light to show youngsters how many germs are wiped off when wipes are used correctly. The Centers for Disease Control and Preven-

Arkansas Initiative kick-off event held in the Cooper Alumni Center at Arkansas State University.

QuickINFO | The facility operates at 1 Nice-Pak Road in the former Haworth office furniture building at U.S. 63 and Commerce Drive. Nice-Pak also manufactures several brands of its own, including the first pre-moistened wipes for the restaurant industry. The company has partnered with area schools, businesses and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s office to promote the Healthy Arkansas Initiative to improve use of hand wipes to clean and disinfect hands against spreading germs and illness. For more information, visit www.nicepak.com. SOURCE: Nice-Pak tion maintains that hand hygiene remains the most important and simplest step in infection preven-

tion, according to a news release. anthony@jonesborosun.com

Alberto Culver constantly adding new product lines in Jonesboro BY SHERRY F. PRUITT SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Alberto Culver, 2407 Quality Way, manufactures a wide variety of hair and skin care products, household items and food brands at its Jonesboro plant. The Melrose Park, Ill.based international company, broke ground on the city’s east side in January 2006 and has been going strong ever since. “The Alberto Culver Jonesboro plant is now running at a rate of 200 million units per annum and continuing to grow,” Operations Director Robert Tomsa said. The plant is operating seven days a week and employs 362 full-time employees and an additional 150 temporary employees, who are managed through a local agency, for a total of approximately 512 employees. “The plant continues to grow and recruit new team members, with cur-

‘Alberto Culver continues to invest in and grow its capability at the Jonesboro site. Internal development and installation of production equipment will continue through all of 2010.’ Robert Tomsa, operations director, Jonesboro Alberto Culver plant

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Alberto Culver manufactures a wide variety of hair and skin care products, household items and food brands. rently 43 permanent vacancies being advertised locally,” Tomsa said by e-mail. Some of the areas where vacancies are located include production team management, planning and scheduling roles, project engineering, quality assurance laboratory leaders and

production employees. The Jonesboro plant product mix has been evolving steadily, Tomsa said. “We now make selected products from all Alberto Culver brands at the site,” he said. Products made in Jonesboro include: VO5, TRESemme, Noxzema,

NORDEX: Company, city officials say area can expect many parts suppliers to locate in NEA FROM PAGE E1 new Jonesboro plant as a “key pillar in our international strategy. It will enable us to serve the U.S., one of the fastest growing markets for wind energy.” Nordex is one of the fastest growing companies in the wind energy industry, according to the company Web site. With headquarters in Germany, Nordex has offices and subsidiaries in 18 countries and employs more than 2,000 people around the world. Nordex USA is headquartered in Chicago. In Jonesboro, Nordex will focus on its large-scale turbine family N90 and N100 (2.5 MW), which is one of the largest series in the world. As a result of this project, Jonesboro and the surrounding region can also expect numerous parts and components suppliers for Nordex to locate in the area, Nordex and local officials have said. The United States is on track to be the world’s single largest wind market in 2010, Nordex officials said in July, with 8,500 megawatts of new capacity projected. Globally, that represents 23 percent of expected new capacity. The Arkansas plant will position Nordex to be a key competitor in the United States, building on its growth of over 50 percent for four consecutive years, company officials said. The new Nordex facilities will have 115,000 square feet of production space, 10,000 square feet for a Train-

ing Academy and 35,000 square feet of office space. Because turbine manufacturing and assembly require specialized skills, Nordex is readying plans to train a

‘The wind industry is fairly young in the United States, so we have to train people from the ground up ... The most important resource we can put time and money into is our people.’ Joe Brenner vice president for production, Nordex USA workforce through the on-site training academy and forging a partnership with Arkansas State University. “The wind industry is fairly young in the United States, so we have to train people from the ground up,” Brenner said. “Making turbines requires specialized skills. It’s not just a $100 million facility. It’s a new industry, and the most important resource we can put time and money into is our people.” curth@jonesborosun.com

St. Ives and Nexxus, as well as the company’s multicultural hair care products, which were the first products manufactured in Jonesboro. “The product mix includes hair care kits, skin care, pumped hair care, lotions, gels, creams, shampoo and conditioners,” Tomsa said.

The manufacturer has made a strong impression in Northeast Arkansas since its arrival. “Alberto Culver continues to invest in and grow its capability at the Jonesboro site. Internal development and installation of production equipment will continue through all of 2010,” according to Tomsa. “Alberto-Culver continues to be delighted with the support it gets from the local Jonesboro community, including the State of Arkansas, the City of Jonesboro, City Water and Light, Jonesboro Workforce Services

Center, and is engaged with the Chamber of Commerce, who continue to be a great source of support. “Links with Arkansas State University continue to be built, and Alberto Culver Jonesboro has been delighted to have a number of students and interns working at the plant; we hope this will prove to be mutually beneficial.” On the Net: www.alberto.com/careers sherry@jonesborosun.com

INDUSTRY: In addition to industrial recruitment, area officials stress importance of retaining business FROM PAGE E1 He said more quality of life issues are coming into play in economic development. Companies want a top work force, a good location, reasonable costs and transportation, but they also want opportunities for their people outside of work. Recruiting new business and industry is important, but just as important, and to some of even greater importance, is assisting existing businesses and industries grow, Young said. He said national figures point out that 70 to 75 percent of all new jobs come from existing business. “As a community and economic developers we not only support new entrepreneurial efforts but put resources into helping those who are already here with their growth and expansions,” he added.

Creating opportunity Jonesboro Unlimited and the Jonesboro Economic Development Com-

mission (formerly Jonesboro Industrial Development Commission) are among the independent organizations that work closely with other leaders to create economic development opportunities and bring them to fruition. “We also work closely with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission at the state level,” Young said. When companies begin their search for a new location, the first contact is usually a state agency such as the AIDC, which works closely with the state agency, local agencies such as JEDC and the Chamber of Commerce. As companies begin site searches, Young said it is more a process of elimination than it is a process of selection, particularly in the early stages. The companies begin their process of selection after the initial eliminations, and that is where the local officials and agencies come into play by providing the information needed to help with the selection process. That’s where being prepared

with sites, infrastructure and other amenities, not the least of which is quality of life, come into play. “I believe economic development is a team sport,” Young said. That

‘As a community and economic developers we not only support new entrepreneurial efforts but put resources into helping those who are already here with their growth and expansions.’ Mark Young president and CEO, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce pretty well sums up how it has been done here for decades. curth@jonesborosun.com


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New Post manager applauds company’s natural products JONESBORO — Ralcorp’s Post cereal plant in Jonesboro is in its seventh month with a new plant manager. Greg Riekhof began his new job in August. “The thing I’ve learned about cereal is that it’s 100 percent natural,” he said in a previous interview. The facility has 325,000 square feet of working space, employs about 200 people and is situated at C.W. Post Road and Commerce Drive. The plant has a good safety record, Reikhof said — about 17 years without a lost-time accident. The facility runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “At the Jonesboro plant our main product is Hon-

ey Bunches of Oats,” he said. Honey Bunches of Oats come in several varieties, including with strawberries, vanilla clusters, almonds and more. The facility also

‘The thing I’ve learned about cereal is that it’s 100 percent natural.’ Greg Riekhof plant manager, Jonesboro Post facility produces the Ralcorp-labeled corn flakes that are used in government food programs, he added. Also produced in the Jonesboro plant are

Shredded Wheat, both original and honey nut, and a new vanilla almond-flavored shredded wheat. Post Cereals was founded in 1895 by C.W. Post, who Riekhof described as a genius interested in products to improve people’s health. His first product was Postum, a breakfast drink that contained shredded wheat. The company bought Jell-O in 1925, Baker’s chocolate in 1927 and Maxwell House coffee in 1928. The company changed its name to General Foods in 1929. It was sold to Phillip Morris in 1985. Nabisco became part of the company in 1993. Ralcorp merged with the Post division in 2008.

Tiffani Wilcox works on the panini line at Nestle in Jonesboro.

Nestle’s expands lines at Jonesboro facility BY MICHAEL WILKEY SUN STAFF WRITER

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Post’s Jonesboro facility is located at C.W. Post Road and Commerce Drive.

Frito-Lay producing tons of snacks JONESBORO — Nine out of 10 chip snack-food products sold in the United States come from FritoLay, company information states. Frito-Lay’s Jonesboro facilities at 2810 Quality Way makes several kinds of snack foods and began production here in 1998. It is a division of PepsiCo. A company official told members of a Jonesboro civic club two years ago the local plant processed 110 million pounds of potatoes, grain from 3,800 acres of corn and more than 450 truckloads of vegetable oil. Every person in the United States could have eaten 1.7 bags of products from the Jonesboro

plant during the previous year, he said. The official said FritoLay buys products used in its production from as many local and regional suppliers as possible. Cartons and other cardboard products are bought from Jonesboro suppliers. At that time, Frito-Lay products comprised 41 percent of parent company PepsiCo’s national sales, the official said. In recent years, FritoLay was recognized for taking a unique approach to business in Northeast Arkansas by trying to reduce its environmental impact. The Environmental Protection Agency honored Frito-Lay for its efforts to make the envi-

ronment a little better. At that time the Jonesboro plant was the first site owned by PepsiCo to be recognized by the EPA. In 2001 the company set goals to reduce the consumption of water, gas and electricity. Since then, water use at the Jonesboro plant has been reduced by 74 percent, gas consumption by 67 percent and electricity by 66 percent. Two years ago the Jonesboro plant decreased its use of natural gas by 50,000 million BTUs and electricity by 300,000 kilowatt hours. It also saved 17 million gallons of water. On the Net: www.fritolay.com

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Frito-Lay’s Jonesboro facility is located at 2810 Quality Way.

“Let our expert help with this Home Improvement Season”

JONESBORO — Nestle Prepared Foods Co. added a new production line last year and is planning more growth. Beverly McQuay, administrative assistant to plant manager Andy Darley, said the company at 1 Nestle Way added a new line to make frozen paninis under the Stouffer and Lean Cuisine brand names. McQuay said the panini is made in a unique way. “Our panini can grill in the microwave,” McQuay said. “That’s because we include a unique grilling tray in each package.” McQuay said the bread is grilled to a crisp golden-brown, while the filling warms up inside. The panini is based on restaurantstyled food, McQuay said. “The restaurant-inspired panini layer flavorful meats and real cheeses on bakery-style breads,” McQuay said. McQuay said plans also call for the company to add to the number of frozen dough-based products by mid-year. “This will also mean recruiting more employees to Nestle in Jonesboro,” McQuay said. She said roughly 720 people work at the Jonesboro facility, making Lean Cuisine meals, Stouffer’s frozen entrees and frozen paninis. In early March, Nestle finished buying the Kraft Foods’ frozen pizza busi-

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Location — 1 Nestle Way, Jonesboro, Arkansas Employees — 720 Products — makes Lean Cuisine frozen meals, Stouffer’s frozen entrees and frozen paninis for Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s. ness, McQuay said. McQuay said the growth at the Jonesboro facility shows the company’s support of Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. “We continue to see growth at the Jonesboro facility,” McQuay said. “The installation of the new line in 2009 shows Nestle’s continued commitment to Jonesboro.” The company also participates in charitable endeavors throughout the area. “We’re proud that Nestle is considered a good employer in the community,” she said. “We continue to be involved in the community through our charitable endeavors (Northeast Arkansas Food Bank, adopted schools) and volunteer efforts. We’re firmly a part of the Jonesboro community now.” On the Net: www.nestle.com mwilkey@jonesborosun.com

Education, health-care projects help Nabholz survive recession BY JOHN M. FLORA SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JONESBORO — Nabholz Construction Services is weathering the recession well, thanks to continuing projects in the health-care and education sectors of the economy. Bill Hanna, chief executive officer of the Conway-based company, said, “This past year was not as good as the previous couple of years, but it wasn’t a really bad year. We were under our projections in terms of performance, but our sales actually went up. We increased sales from about $430 million to $450 million. That’s up about $20 million from 2008, or about 4 percent. “Across the board, the major market sectors we perform in have all held fairly well in the Arkansas part of our operations — health care, K-12 (school projects) and higher education have all continued to maintain a good amount of projects. The market sectors that are down are manufacturing, warehousing and hospitality,” Hanna said. “One of the things our company has been blessed with is that we are not dependent on a single market sector to be successful.” Hanna attended a contractors’ as-

Everyday Ease

Serving Northeast Arkansas Since 1949

QuickINFO |

Nabholz Project Superintendent Bob Brown reviews plans for Benedictine Manor on Bridge Street in Jonesboro in March 2009. The 40-unit senior citizen residence opened in February.

sociation meeting in Dallas recently where he said it was apparent that his peers in Western states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada, are “suffering pretty badly.” “A couple of our members are heavy into multifamily residential and big upscale condo construction, and that market has really tanked,” he said. “Others involved in the industrial and manufacturing sectors are also suffering pretty badly. The scenario also applies to the East Coast. “The good news is that Arkansas, being in the central part of the U.S., has been insulated from the economic swings on the two coasts,” he said. Hanna sees Northeast Arkansas as a sort of pocket of prosperity and thinks the whole eastern part of the state is poised for the kind of boom that occurred a few years ago in Northwest Arkansas. “Eastern Arkansas has great infrastructure, a great workforce with colleges and universities for an educated workforce, land values are not overpriced, that combines for a very strong growth potential,” he said. Nabholz has also benefited from last year’s federal stimulus package in terms of school construction projects. “The stimulus funding has enabled some districts to do some things that they needed or wanted to do but they hadn’t been able to do,” he said. “In some cases, they’re using stimulus money coupled with Department of Education partnership funding to get a project going before the influx of the stimulus money. The effect has been subtle.” Andrew Adlong is manager of Nabholz Construction Services Jonesboro and oversees jobs in Northeast Arkansas, western Tennessee, the Missouri Bootheel and the southwest corner of Kentucky. “Most of the projects we have going right now are school projects,” he said. “We have bathroom renovations and a storage building underway at Wynne, classroom and cafeteria additions at Barton-Lexa Schools and Manila Schools, and we just finished a gymnasium at Highland where they’re ready to do several projects over the summer that are stimulus-funded.” Locally, Nabholz is finishing a classroom addition at the Jonesboro Schools’ Visual and Performing Arts magnet school and recently completed Benedictine Manor, a 2-building senior citizens residence with 20 units in each building, he said.


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StarTek call center stays busy BY ANTHONY CHILDRESS SUN STAFF WRITER

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Charles Harris, Colson Caster Corp. engineering manager, puts a caster through ergonomic testing on Feb. 16 at the factory in Jonesboro.

Colson celebrates 125 years in city JONESBORO — Colson Caster, 3700 Airport Road, is celebrating its 125th year of operation in Jonesboro. Colson manufactures wheel products used for material handling in all of the world’s markets. The company, which has 84 employees, is under the direction of Don Laux, president and general manager. Colson has a new Web presence that features 3-dimensional design capabilities. Also new to the company is a pallet pricing program for small orders. Significant changes include a new sales force structure, with three members per territory to increase responsiveness and to grow current and new business. With a company that’s more than 100 years old, many employees have put in a significant number of years with Colson. Bobby Blake, stock clerk, and Houston Prince, electro-mechanical technician, both retired last year with 40 years of service to the company; Rita Lloyd, assembly technician, retired after 39 years; and Charles Barker, also an assembly technician, retired after 30 years. Employees who have served the company for at least 25 years, their titles and number of years served include: Louis Welch, tooling technician, and Clinon Willingham, electro-mechanical technician, both 40 years; Wayne Coots, shipping and receiving group leader, 39 years; Wendell Harrell, assembly technician, 38 years; Neal Mullins, welding technician, 35 years; William Harrison, material handler, 33 years; Jimmy Jackson, punch press coordinator, 32 years; Karen Davis, assembly technician, and Lionel Roberts, packer, both 31 years; Billy Versie, waste water-plating group leader, and Johnny Martin, electro-mechanical technician, both 30 years; and Jimmy Barber, shipping and receiving group leader, 25 years.

JONESBORO — It’s been a busy and productive year for StarTek, the Denverbased company whose chief objective is handling customer service calls for the telecommunications industry. Recruiting manager Lacey Williams said business has maintained a hectic pace, and she expects that to continue. “We expanded our operating hours twice,” Williams said. “Once, to include Sundays in our schedule. Then, we expanded into some evening hours. Our hours now are from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday through Sunday.”

History in area The company opened for business here in June 2008. The center, at that time StarTek’s 21st nationwide, occupies 55,000 square feet at the former Price Chopper building, 2908 South Caraway Road. Williams said StarTek’s initial launch ended early last year when it reached a total of 500 employees. “This allowed us to also hire additional management and support staff, bringing the total closer to 600,” she said.

What they do Employees answer customer service and support calls for companies in the wireless, wireline and cable-broadband-satellite business. Company officials said they chose

QuickINFO | The Denver-based company offers a variety of customer care capabilities for the telecommunications industry and opened its Jonesboro facility in June 2008. It employs nearly 600 people locally. The center occupies 55,000 square feet in the former Price Chopper building, 2908 South Caraway Road. For more information, visit www.startek.com. SOURCE: StarTek Jonesboro because of its highly educated workforce and commitment by

‘A new program called Community Matters was launched in the summer, which has given our employees opportunities to become more involved in the Jonesboro area.’ Lacey Williams recruiting manager, StarTek local leaders to fuel economic growth by helping locate potential staff. Mark Young, president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, has said he welcomed StarTek to the city because it comple-

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Marquita McClina (left), a resolution specialist at StarTek, helps Marsha Brown answer a caller’s questions on March 3 at Jonesboro. ments the companies already in place. The office here marked its first anniversary in June, Williams said, with a “huge party for employees and their families.” Then it was back to work. “A new program called Community Matters was launched in the summer, which has given our employees opportunities to become more involved in the Jonesboro area. Since

then, we have worked with many organizations, including the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society, the Woman’s Discovery Center and others,” Williams said. All in all, she said the company’s stint here thus far has been a busy and rewarding one. anthony@jonesborosun.com

Thomas & Betts works hard to keep employees during downturn BY GEORGE JARED SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Breaking even with their number of employees was enough for the upper brass at Thomas & Betts Incorporated in 2009 as the national economy tanked. If financial forecasts remain unchanged for 2010, keeping the same number of employees will be positive, company spokesman John Shatzer said. “We had some layoffs periodically throughout the year,” Shatzer said. “But the layoffs were short-lived. Right now our numbers are back. We hope to keep them there.” Currently 340 workers are employed at the Jonesboro plant. The company produces an array of electrical fittings, rigid PVC-coated pipe, PVC-coated pipe fittings and elbows. Competing in a leaner economy has forced the company and its employees to become more versatile, Shatzer said. If orders for one production

line are lagging, workers may be transferred to another line to keep employment and production numbers up, he said. Thomas & Betts opened a plant in Jonesboro in the mid-1990s. Dan Seidel is the plant manager. Despite the change in the number of employees throughout the last year, the company was able to garner an Environmental Achievement Award from Jonesboro

City Water and Light. Factors such waste-water discharge and other environmental measures taken by the plant are used as criteria for the award. “We’re proud of it,” Shatzer said. The company was nominated in 2009 for the Patriot Award, an Arkansas National Guard award which recognizes companies that show commitment to their reservists.

& Betts. Although nobody is projecting a return to a robust economy in 2010, Shatzer said the compa-

ny is content with keeping its current employee roster. gjared@jonesborosun.com

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Mary McCoy and Bryan Archer package Carlon elbows manufactured in the Thomas & Betts plant at Jonesboro on Sept. 23.

Hytrol adds employees, products JONESBORO — Tom Loberg founded Hytrol Conveyor Co. in Wisconsin in 1947 and moved the company to Jonesboro in 1962. It is a manufacturer of conveyors and conveying systems with an employment team of 507, working at 2020 Hytrol St. Since May 2009, 55 full-time employees have been added to the payroll. The company has also implemented an employee development process called Professional Advancement through Continuing Training that allows employees to grow, providing Hytrol with manufacturing flexibility and superior service to customers. Local focus is placed on developing employees while going to market exclusively through a distributor network. Hytrol is implementing a company-wide Enterprise Resource Planning solution and is designing and implementing a solid modeling solution for or-

First-shift pipeline worker Sgt. Michael Davies made the nomination, according to a newsletter released by Thomas

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Hytrol is located at 2020 Hytrol St. in Jonesboro. dering and engineering its conveyors. Products, which have been added or improved in the last year include the E24 family of conveyors and accessories, Extenda Pusher, Bat Diverter AR and SR, Track A Pack, Long Zone ABEZ, Modular Heavy-Duty Belt Conveyor and a 30-degree di-

vert for the MRT. Privately held by the Loberg Trust, principal officers include Gregg Goodner, president; Bob West, vice president of business operations; Don Wilson, vice president of manufacturing operations; and Sherry Stringer, chief financial officer. In the past year, 120 employees have celebrated 25 years or more of service totaling 3,702 years. Manager of marketing Phillip Poston said Hytrol continues to strategically look at new markets and industries while developing ways to support them both internally and externally. While many in the conveyor industry are merging and taking new names, Hytrol’s name remains strong because of its reliability and consistency, he said. Hytrol may be reached at 935-3700 or by e-mail at info@hytrol.com. On the Net: www.hytrol.com

NEAFCU members Larry and Phyliss Cox, of Blytheville, never imagined how much their credit union could save them in interest when they looked at refinancing to a lower rate. They quickly learned that a significant reduction in their auto loan interest meant big savings – enough to make a large down payment when they purchase their next vehicle! Everyone is looking for ways to save money these days, but one of the most overlooked ways to trim expenses is reducing your loan interest rates. Whether you are purchasing a vehicle, or are looking to save on an existing loan, NEAFCU just may be able to save you some of your hard-earned money.* Learn more about the great rates on loans as well as the many other great products and services available at NEAFCU by visiting neafcu.org.


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Lawrence industries intact despite rough years Many new businesses locate in county BY FRANK M. WITOWSKI JR. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WALNUT RIDGE — Despite a national recession, Lawrence County continues to maintain a steady industry infrastructure. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary Kathy Bradley said that this has not been an easy year for many in the county, but businesses continue to persevere. She said the chamber has 203 members. When a business has failed or ceased membership with the chamber, a new business has joined, whether it is an existing business or a new industry, she said . New businesses that have joined the chamber in recent months include Lawrence County Machine Works, the Lawrence County Children’s Shelter, Something Old Something New Consignment, Adam Weeks Law Firm, Crews Law Firm, Save-A-Lot and Cox Kawasaki. Lawrence County Machine Works began business Jan. 1, 2009. The Lawrence County Children’s Shelter opened in June and has been busy assisting children in transition. Something Old Something New Consignment opened its doors in March 2009. Adam Weeks Law Firm came to the county in January 2010, and Crews Law Firm opened in December. Save-A-Lot opened May 6 after delays from the ice storm. McHainey Vi-

sionary Center changed hands and is now Ross Eye Care Center. Cox Kawasaki, which initially began business in April 2008, relocated and expanded in December 2008. The family-owned business celebrated its official grand opening in May 2009 and hosted a charity poker run, raising $2,500 for the Lawrence County Children’s Shelter. The business is located on the South Hoxie bypass and sells Kawasaki recreational vehicles, motorcycles, ATVs, utility vehicles and jet skis as well as Yamaha golf carts. During the past year a few non-chamber businesses came to Walnut Ridge. Among them are Treasure Chest, US China Buffet, Plaza Center Novelty House and a few other “mom and pop shops,” officials said. In addition, Captain Catfish moved to Main Street in downtown Walnut Ridge and expanded. In August 2009, Square Posts and the Times Dispatch celebrated anniversaries. Square Posts, owned by Eggie Tedder, celebrated its 30th anniversary in August, hosting a catered catfish dinner at the Hoxie Service Center. It was attended by about 300 invited patrons and guests. The Times Dispatch celebrated its 100th anniversary Aug. 13 with a business after hours open house. Memorabilia covered the front entrance to the Times Dispatch,

Intermodal Authority brings cities, counties together to develop area BY FRANK M. WITOWSKI JR. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WALNUT RIDGE — The idea that more can be accomplished when people work together fueled the Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Facilities Authority’s development. Intermodal Authority treasurer Milton Smith said the Intermodal Authority officially began in January 2009 although progress was in the works before then. The Intermodal Authority consists of Lawrence and Randolph counties and the cities of Pocahontas, Walnut Ridge, Hoxie and Corning. Smith said Clay County will join the authority soon. The Intermodal Authority hired Crafton Toll and Sparks to assist them in stimulating the regional economy. “We’re coming together trying to develop the region as a whole for everyone’s Milton Smith benefit,” Smith said. “Each treasurer, Intermodal Authority government entity makes a contribution to the Intermodal Authority. Each community has sites picked out to be developed, and we have a general master plan for three of the four cities. Walnut Ridge’s site will be the further development of the industrial park area near the Walnut Ridge airport.” Smith hopes that in the next five years, new businesses will be up and running, or at least under construction on these sites. “We are looking for a way to get raw material in and finished product out at lower transportation cost,” Smith said. “We’re really trying to develop the transportation infrastructure around here, which would include tying our highways, railroads and airport together and developing what would be transloading facilities which include industrial and commercial sites for people who would need access to these modes of transportation.” The Intermodal Authority meets the fourth Thursday of every month at 10 a.m. Smith said the Intermodal Authority usually meets at Black River Technical College but interested parties should call the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce first at 892-3956. The meetings are open to the public. Wayne Gearhardt is the authority chairman.

‘We’re coming together trying to develop the region as a whole for everyone’s benefit.’

George Jared | The Sun

The Children’s Shelter in Walnut Ridge houses children in danger from throughout Northeast Arkansas. where third-generation John Bland is publisher. The paper’s staff surprised the Bland family with a special section commemorating the momentous 100 years of service to Lawrence County. Strides are currently being made to bring industry to the area and promote existing businesses. In 2008 the chamber began hosting business after hours events to help community leaders and the community as a whole learn about businesses in the county. In addition, an intermo-

dal Authority formed in 2009 to prepare areas in Northeast Arkansas for growth. Bradley sees a bright future ahead for Lawrence County and is pleased existing industries continue to maintain despite a harsh economy. “Economics plays an important part in our county, and we are proud of the businesses and industries that are maintaining their outlook for the future,” Bradley said. “We look forward to a progressive future for each of them as they pursue their goals.”

Iron Mountain Metal Works proves to be creative enterprise BY FRANK M. WITOWSKI JR. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WALNUT RIDGE —Machines and art are mixing at Iron Metal Works. New technology is opening avenues for modern art and making machine metal art affordable to the general public as time

on projects has been cut by 300 percent. Danny West added Iron Mountain Metal Works to his West Machine Inc. machine shop across from the Walnut Ridge airport four years ago. In the last two years West has seen an increase in customers and orders in the creative

Frank M. Witowski Jr. | Special to The Sun

This piece of metal art will be 12 feet tall upon completion.

sector of his business. “We have more customers and more opportunities,” West said. “Technology brings custom work where it is now affordable. The software advances in the last few years have allowed us to digitize photos to the point where we can cut and manufacture whatever we can photograph. That lends itself to a lot of creativity. What before would take 60 to 70 hours of programming now takes two hours.” West said it all starts out with a design, which is then brought to the plasma machine. “This is something that is a lot of fun,” West said. “It’s wide open as far as creativity. We put a twist and flair on what we do.” West said while the machine shop is the operation’s “bread and butter,” Iron Mountain Metal Works is picking up and helping the machine shop operation during a time of economic recession. “Our business is regional,” West said. “We have customers as far away as Georgia and Kentucky. We have a lot of marinerelated business across the Mississippi River and occasionally have inter-

Frank M. Witowski Jr.

Iron Mountain Metal Works proprietor Danny West points at one of the rock ’n’ roll “concept” metal artwork pieces that plant manager Joe Medlock has created. national work. One of our Iron Mountain projects went to New York.” Iron Mountain Metal Works is also working on icons to help promote the new U.S. 67 Rock ’n’ Roll Highway tourist attraction. When completed, the figures of several well-

When in their final form, they will be 6foot tall icons along the Rock ’N’ Roll Highway stretch of U.S. 67, which stretches from Newport to Pocahontas.

known musicians such as Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison will be 6-foot metal statues along U.S. 67 from Newport to Pocahontas. Iron Mountain Metal Works owner Danny West said Presley, Orbison, Conway Twitty and many more famous performers, played at Bob

King’s Tavern. “I have been working on these for about three months,” West said. “For us, it is an outlet.” West said there are many exciting metal design plans not yet revealed that will publicize the Rock ’n’ Roll Highway.

Riding the rails of progress in Paragould One business to add production line while another continues expansion in city BY GEORGE JARED SUN STAFF WRITER

PARAGOULD — High speed rail projects around the country could lead to an influx of jobs in Northeast Arkansas in 2010. American Railcar Industries principal owner Carl Icahn recently entered into an agreement to form a new company that will build self-propelled passenger cars for specially designated routes between major

U.S. cities. Federal dollars have been allocated for the project, according to officials. The cars are set to be manufactured at ARI’s Paragould and Marmaduke plants, company officials said. How many jobs could be created by this expansion isn’t known. A timetable for when production will start has not been set. The announcement last month of the new project came at a good time for

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one of NEA’s largest employers. Constant layoffs and decreased production have dogged ARI from late 2008 through 2009, according to multiple reports.

Anchor Packaging While the recession has prompted many businesses to layoff workers and reduce hours, Paragould-based Anchor Packaging Inc. added 120 new workers in 2009 and plans to continue its workforce expansion in 2010, according to company officials. “We have had the opposite problem of layoffs — we’ve had to hire new workers,” Employment Training Coordinator Jenna Waddill said. The company is also expanding its building by 70,000 feet to accommodate more equipment. The company produces packaging for commer-

cial restaurants and individual consumers. It’s recent spike in activity is related to a newly minted

‘We have had the opposite problem of layoffs — we’ve had to hire new workers.’ Jenna Waddill employment training coordinator, Anchor Packaging Inc. contract with KFC, Waddill said. Many of the fastfood giant’s new plastic serving trays will be processed in Paragould, she said. After opening its Arkansas operations in 1985, the Paragould plant now employs 590 people. In the coming months the company is set to hire at least 28 more employees. gjared@jonesborosun.com

George Jared | The Sun

Welders like this one in the American Railcar Industries plant in Paragould may be welding self-propelled passenger cars together in the near future.


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Heading out on the highway Area roadway improvements continue, making travel easier BY RAY WHITESIDE SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Travel to and from Jonesboro is getting easier as the state’s highway department continues to improve local roadways. Recent significant advancements include the opening of an 18-mile stretch of U.S. 67 north of Newport. The 4-lane, interstatequality stretch of roadway, which connects Little Rock to Northeast Arkansas, now intersects with Arkansas 226 west of Cash. The passage was opened by Gov. Mike Beebe on Oct. 15 with a ceremony near the Jackson County seat. The new stretch of pavement cost $93 million to build. An estimated 6,000 vehicles travel the roadway daily. “We were worried at

first as to how drivers would react to the new part,” said Lyndal Waits, District 5 engineer for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. “But we have had no complaints from motorists or state police.” Curt Hodges | The Sun

Additional work

The new hookup of Arkansas 226 with U.S. 67 is shown on July 27.

Other AHTD projects include improvements to U.S. 49 and U.S. 412 in the Paragould area, and Arkansas 18 and future Interstate 555 in Craighead County. U.S. 49 and Arkansas 18 should be finished in 2010, District 10 engineer Walter McMillan said. U.S. 49 is being widened to five lanes in the Paragould area. “We’ve been working on this for the past couple of years,” McMillan said.

Workers are now busy refinishing bridges and overpasses in the area. “Once they are done with that, the rest of the project shouldn’t take long at all,” McMillan said. The crews are working from Court Street in Paragould to Arkansas 135. Arkansas 18 will continue to be a problem as crews work from Big Lake in north Craighead County to Blytheville. They will make the highway a 4-lane roadway, McMillan said.

New work on Arkansas 226 from U.S. 67 to Cash will be contracted out by the end of March and should begin in May. The 2-lane state highway will eventually become a 4-lane, divided roadway and connect to U.S. 49 south of Jonesboro.

Some must move Some Cash residents who live on Arkansas 226 will lose their homes as a result of the construc-

tion. “It’s OK, I guess,” Vicki Thompson said in a previous interview. “There’s not really anything we can do about it.” Thompson, who owns Vicki’s general store, said officials told her the project would take at least the front of her home. “We’ll just move whenever they tell us to,” she said. The link would give travelers between St. Louis and Dallas an alternate route. Drivers

currently wishing to travel a 4-lane road take Interstate 55 south to Memphis, where they get on Interstate 40 to Little Rock. Crews at the future Interstate 555 from Jonesboro to I-55 are still working on areas between Tyronza and the eastern New OrleansChicago corridor. “I know they are working hard, and it should be done soon,” McMillan said. rwhiteside@jonesborosun.com

John Griffith | Paxton News Bureau

Left: Construction workers take a break Feb. 22 from working on the sub-structure of the bridge on U.S. 49 over Eight Mile Ditch. Left: A survey team works alongside Eight Mile Ditch just west of the construction taking place on the U.S. 49 bridge project in Paragould on Feb. 22.

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ART looks to expand operations BY NAN SNIDER SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GOSNELL — Aviation Repair Technologies (ART) set up operations at the Mississippi County Arkansas Aeroplex in the spring of 2008, has thrived there, and is looking to expand. ART is an aircraft maintenance company that offers services for narrow body commercial airlines such as American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, FedEx and Air France. It also services turboprops and regional jets. ART is a subsidiary of the worldwide company Aero Maintenance Group, which has its own turbine power plant. ART has secured 200 employees to complete its staff of skilled professionals trained to attend to every aspect of heavy aircraft maintenance, from C-checks, cargo conversions, modifications and engineering services. ART also provides short–term storage and aircraft engine disassembly via its sister company, Turbine Support International, which is located in the same facility. The company’s choice to locate its operations near Blytheville was aided by its receipt of a government incentive award, whereby local and state government agen-

cies provided $3.7 million in assistance in exchange for the company’s promise to create between 310 and 440 new jobs by 2011. Ben Quevedo is the chief executive officer of ART; Rick Uber is vice president and general manager; and Kevin Hill is vice president and general manager of Turbine Support International. “We started out in April

2008, with a lot of space to fill,” Quality Assurance Manager Ed Jones said. “We have grown constantly since that time, with employees and services. We now have six line stations in our facility, which specialize in areas of maintenance and repair. Many of our employees are trained in several specialties, which helps us network between the line stations.

Nan Snider | Special to The Sun

Ramon Encarnacion (left), American Eagle project manager, stopped by the hangar at ART to check his aircraft, as Parts Expeditor Jessica McGuire and ART Quality Assurance Manager Ed Jones make note of the plane’s maintenance schedule and parts list.

This is where we are seeing our most growth. “ART has two men who teach classes at Arkansas Northeastern College here, and we have been fortunate to have students graduate and come to work for us,” Jones said. “Training is key to this type of work ... You can’t just come off the street and work on these big planes. Many of the jobs are high-tech. “The nearest aircraft maintenance company of this type is as far away as Hot Springs,” Jones said. “So you can see the need to have services provided close in to the major airports and hubs. We have a long runway and hangar space, and are centrally located.” “Our success here is a credit to the area support that we have received,” Uber said. “Our vendors come from all over Northeast Arkansas. “We soon saw the need for airplane storage, and we have the space to accommodate that,” he said “When we see a need, we quickly look to see if we can meet that need ... Working with the State of Arkansas, our growth plan is to add an additional 300 jobs in three years. “Our goal is to teach, grow and support locally, and give back to the community that has helped us so much,” Uber said.

Officials: Cross County has growth potential BY MICHAEL WILKEY SUN STAFF WRITER

WYNNE — There is the potential for more growth in Cross County, a Cross County Chamber of Commerce official said. Brian Thompson said Neil M. Footwear Inc. in Wynne has grown since the closing of a shoe company at the same location about three years ago. Addison Shoe Co. closed in January 2007 but soon

re-opened with new owners Neil Munro and Martha Jane Murray. “At the time, Addison employed 94 workers down from the 174 employed at the start of the year,” Thompson said. “Today the company is back to within only a few workers of that number.” Thompson said the company also received a $20 million contract last year with the U.S. Army to build footwear.

In early 2009, Thompson said the Cross County Economic Development Corporation gave the company $11,000 to create an energy savings program to allow employees to improve energy efficiency at their homes with energy audits and buy fixtures to improve energy use. “Martha has been able to work to grant funding for the Home Energy Assistance Loan program to

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provide grants to others in Cross County for similar home upgrades for better energy efficiencies,” Thompson said. Thompson said nearly 40 families in Cross County have applied so far. Thompson said the economic development corporation also worked to bring two new businesses to Cross County — Ashrock Metals and Dollar General. Ashrock Metals, a company that recycles iron and non-iron metals, will move into a spec-building at the Wynne Industrial Complex this year, he said. Plans call for the company to create nearly 30 jobs and spend $1-2 million to upgrade the building, Thompson said. Thompson said economic development officials and Cherry Valley residents also worked last year to bring Dollar General to Cherry Valley. “We did not experience the major layoffs that affected other cities,” Thompson said. “We did have our ups and downs.” mwilkey@jonesborosun.com

Nan Snider | Special to The Sun

SRT employees Don Field and Shawn Beltran repair a segment on a steel caster at the Blytheville plant.

Steel business grows BY NAN SNIDER SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BLYTHEVILLE — What started out as a dream of three friends turned into a reality when Steel Related Technology (SRT) was formed in the spring of 1997. Mike Bruce, Greg Brandon and Mike Jacques had worked together in the steel business for six years before forming SRT to service caster maintenance repair for Nucor-Yamato Steel. The SRT company is located at 101 Terra Road in Blytheville, near the Nucor facilities. “We started out with 50 employees in 1997,” Plant Manager Mike Bruce said. “Now we have 145 employees. Our work scope consists of rebuilding the molds and segments used to process steel, and rebuilding the oscillators for Nucor-Yamato.” As SRT grew, its leaders saw the need to expand and opened their second facility in Huger, S.C., in 1998. They expanded again, opened a third SRT Casting Maintenance Service facility in Decatur, Ala., in July of 2002. “The work there consists of mold and segment repair,” Bruce said. “We employ 65 people with similar schedules to service Nucor Decatur and Nucor Tuscaloosa in Alabama. “We are on a 7-day, 24-hour schedule,” he said. “We rotate shifts among our employees. After we started, we got the oscillator work from Nucor Steel-Hickman plant, which is just north of the first Nucor plant.” In 2004 the Blytheville facility began its own nickel-plating process on site. “In 2006 we implemented a Field Crew Department and purchased a laser unit used to align the casters of various steel processing mills,” Bruce said. “Now we can do our own laser fieldwork. This is a busy department. The crew was scheduled March 1-8 doing laser work at Nucor Steel-Hickman. “Even though there has been an economic downturn, we have been fortunate not to have to lay off employees,” he said. “This is due to the fact we regulated ourselves, were very frugal and had the continued support of our customers. We ran a tight watch around here.” In 2009 SRT began operations in the new Nucor Cast Strip facility at its current address. Rolls are processed at SRT with chrome plating finishing especially for use at the Nucor Cast Strip facility and Nucor Steel-Hickman plant. “On Jan. 1, 2010, we began transition to become a part of Siemens Industry Inc., a worldwide affiliate,” Bruce said. “We are pleased to have been able to maintain all of our workers and stay a productive business. We see this as a positive growth movement opportunity. “We take a lot of pride in our employees and our experienced staff,” he said. “A business is just as successful as those people who work for it, and we have good people. The are and always have been our greatest asset.” Mississippi County Judge Steve McGuire and Great River Economic Development member Clif Chitwood credited the steel industry and related businesses as being the No. 1 industry in the county, both in revenue and employment. “Despite the recession, Mississippi County increased 2,700 jobs in 2009, with an $80 million increase in payroll overall,” Chitwood said. “We give our citizens, industries and government credit for working together and helping one another.” “We are fortunate to have 67 miles of Mississippi River shoreline in our county, which makes it a natural to have attracted steel industries like Nucor,” McGuire said. “Just as the air base was closing, the steel industry found us. We need diversity.”

Company makes cellulose meat packing BY NAN SNIDER SPECIAL TO THE SUN

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OSCEOLA — Hot dogs, as Americans know them today, came about by the perfection of cellulose casings in which the meat is packed. Viskase Corp. in southern Mississippi County has been in business since 1976, but its parent company, Visking Corp., got its start in 1925. “We have quite a history of business worldwide,” Human Resource Manager Donna Bell said as she turned on a video about the Vickase Corp. Story. The founder of Visking, Erwin O. Freund, had spent his business life in the animal casing business, trying different products to hold and form the sausages and meats. Early tries in changing dry viscose products back to cellulose proved to have no wet strength. A laboratory mishap overcooked a batch of viscose, and an experiment to stuff the cellulose casings while they were dry took place. When the sausage were removed from the casing after leaving the smokehouse, the skinless frankfurter was born. In 1935 fibrous casings of reinforced cellulose was introduced. In 1940 a lightweight cellulose

Nan Snider | Special to The Sun

Viskase Plant Manager Stan Miller displays the latest items produced by his plant in Osceola. came about. Finally in 1957 Visking joined forces with Union Carbide Corp. and became known as the Films-Packaging division, and finally it became Viskase Corp. “The meat and poultry industries have advanced in the last 50 years thanks to Viskase,” plant manager Stan Miller said. “Stores have a wide variety of tasty and nutritious meat products that are conveniently packaged and economically priced.” Billboards covered the walls of the Viskase training area in Osceola, as Miller proudly pointed out the latest product lines. Viskase is a publicly

owned, worldwide leader in the supply of cellulose, fibrous and plastic casings. The main production plants are located in Loudon, Tenn., Monterey, N.M., and two in France. The national headquarters is in Darien, Ill. The Osceola plant employs 320 people and runs 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “The recent recession has not affected our business,” Bell said. “When the economy is down, people enjoy eating hot dogs, and when the economy is up, people love to go out to parks and ballgames and eat hot dogs. Either way we win.”


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Farmers hope 2010 proves productive year BY CURT HODGES SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — After a late and soggy harvest, Northeast Arkansas producers are looking forward to a new planting season and better profits for 2010. But with major concerns around spring flooding, higher input costs and volatile grain markets, the 2010 planting season may appear to be as equally daunting as last year’s harvest. Just listening at several production meetings this winter, gives the impression agriculture in Northeast Arkansas this year will look a lot like the previous two — with some hoped-for changes such as less rain during planting and at harvest.

When asked recently about Arkansas cotton acres, Extension Service Cotton Agronomist Tom Barber indicated there may be a few more acres than in 2009, which just happened to be one of the lowest on record in acres planted, he said. Although there are ups and downs in agriculture in the state, agriculture remains a solid footing in the foundation for the state’s diverse economy. The value of production for principal crops in Arkansas during 2009 totaled $3.38 billion. Even though that amount was down some 14 percent from $3.95 billion in 2008, it’s still significant. Nationwide, agriculture remains the only positivebalance trading, state of-

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Terry Cobb (inside left tractor) unloads a “boll buggy� of newly picked cotton into a module builder operated by Oz Garcia (center) and Floyd Hancock in a field along Craighead Road 973 northeast of Jonesboro on Nov. 4. ficials said recently. U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln and U.S. Rep. Marion Berry continue to point that out as they discuss the nation’s economy. In Arkansas the top three commodities — rice, soybeans and cotton — accounted for 83 percent of the total value of production of principal crops.

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Greg Garner harvests cotton in a field along Craighead Road 973 northeast of Jonesboro on Nov. 4.

All principal crops showed declines in value of production from 2008 with the exception of pecans. Wheat, down 75 percent from 2008, showed the largest decline. Wheat’s decline was not due to production problems but conditions that existed at planting time, which prevented growers who normally would plant wheat from doing so. Those problems included weather and market conditions. It is likely that anyone connected to agriculture will remember the past two growing seasons because of flooding, state officials said. Too much water in the spring and too much in the fall, generally described the situation in most of the state. Too much water is not the only challenge for growers. Another problem, at least for soybean growers, Asian soybean rust, has not been the bugaboo that many feared when the fungus first reared its head a few years back. It has shown up across the state, but the economic impact has been little, Extension officials have noted. Herbicide-resistant weeds, such as horse weed or mare’s tail and Palmer amaranth or pigweed, are a bigger issue at present. Pigweed is the bigger pest, as it multiplies many times faster than horseweed, officials said. Ken Smith, Extension weed scientist at the Division of Agriculture’s Southeast Research and Extension Center in Mon-

ticello, said that eight years ago, morning glory was the problem weed on every grower’s mind. Smith is almost evan-

‘There is no prescription that works in every cotton or soybean field, but in any program, soil residual herbicides are going to be essential for controlling ... pests.’ Ken Smith Extension weed scientist at the Division of Agriculture’s Southeast Research and Extension Center in Monticello gelistic in his attempt to spread the word about herbicide resistance and spends a lot of time and effort telling growers how to battle the resistant weeds and researching ways to kill the weeds. Commonly known as Roundup-resistant pigweed, the mutation was first confirmed in Mississippi County in 2005, Smith said. The problem has since spread to most of the counties in eastern Arkansas. Researchers said Roundup-(glyphosate)resistant pigweed has been confirmed in 21 Arkansas counties. A research location has been established to study control programs in a field situation. Research on

Poinsett County gains industries despite tough economy BY MICHAEL WILKEY SUN STAFF WRITER

HARRISBURG — Poinsett County has seen recent growth among industries, despite a national economic downturn. In June of last year, Rusken Packaging agreed to move into the old American Greetings building on Arkansas 1 in Harrisburg. The corrugated shipping company is a big part of the city’s future, Harrisburg chamber board member David Owens said. Owens said the company has hired new sales people, noting the economy has slowed down some parts of the business. But Owens is optimis-

‘We are still adding machines. The economy is soft, but orders have picked up a little.’ Roy Painter, regional general manager, Rusken Packaging tic. “We are confident that Rusken will boost the economy,� he said. “We are going fine,� Rusken regional general manager Roy Painter said. “We are still adding machines. The economy is soft, but orders have picked up a little.� Painter said the company employs 45 people who travel from Jonesboro, Paragould and Trumann to Harrisburg each day to work.

nerships can also help. “We are working with Trumann and other towns on economic development,� Owens said. Owens credited the work of Entergy and the Small Business Development Center at Arkansas State University — both of which placed Poinsett County into new programs — for breaking down barriers.

Working together

In Trumann chamber official Jackie Ross said businesses are working

Owens said new part-

to maintain current levels of productivity in a tough economy. Ross, a longtime economic development official, said businesses like Columbia Forest Products in Trumann have buoyed the city’s economy. “We are fortunate to have Columbia Forest,� Ross said. “They work to maintain self.� James Sowell, a quality manager for Columbia, said the company makes products for many different needs. “This is a great compa-

ny to work for. We have 116 employees and are committed to the environment,� Sowell said. Columbia Forest moved to 202 Poinsett Ave. in January 1986. The company, with a location in the middle of town, creates wooden veneer and types of plywood for residential, business and retail customers. Ross said the economic opportunity has also spread to construction as 22 new homes and 68 additions, carports and other structures were built

those plots is revealing the nature of the resistance and helping to develop management strategies. Researches said the most resistant pigweed population identified by division scientists was found in Lincoln County. “The farmer had already put two 22-ounce applications of Roundup on that field before he called us,� Research technician Ryan Doherty said. “We put on another 44-ounce application of Roundup, and it didn’t hurt it at all.� Smith said Division of Agriculture scientists had devised a number of strategies to control glyphosate-resistant pigweed, most involving a combination of herbicides beginning with a preplant application. Roundup is still a valuable weed control product, he said, because it controls more than 100 other weeds. But it will have to be part of a new program for weed control. “There is no prescription that works in every cotton or soybean field,� Smith said. “But in any program, soil-residual herbicides are going to be essential for controlling these pests.� Smith said farmers should overlap soil-residual applications to keep them on the field all the time. He recommended scouting for pigweed at the same time growers would be scouting for insects. Catching and killing pigweed before it matures and goes to seed is important in controlling the spread of the weed. curth@jonesborosun.com

QuickINFO | There are businesses in Harrisburg and Trumann that provide products to people throughout the United States. Rusken Packaging takes corrugated cardboard and makes boxes, while Columbia Forest Products is an architectural plywood mill. The Trumann company has a varied customer base, with nearly 50 percent coming from residential remodeling or new homes. in Trumann in 2009. mwilkey@jonesborosun.com

Business in Trumann

   

Michael Wilkey | The Sun

Corrugated cardboard moves through an assembly line at Rusken Packaging in Harrisburg.

        


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Flying high SeaPort looking to expand air travel services for city BY KEITH INMAN SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Jonesboro celebrated when SeaPort Airlines, based at Portland, Ore., made its first flight out of Jonesboro Municipal Airport on Oct. 26. Now the airline is looking to do more than just the minimum required under its Essential Air Service contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation. SeaPort provides three daily flights to Memphis International Airport Monday through Friday and three weekend flights. Flights to Memphis cost $29 with 21-day advance notice or $39 without notice, Chaney said. “You can’t park or drive for that, neither one of those fares,” he said.

On the Net | SeaPort Airlines: www.seaportair.com

“The advantage of using SeaPort is you can park here at our airport free of charge, and we’ll transfer you to the main terminal at no charge in Memphis. And we’ll come pick you up on your arrival back.” SeaPort also provides flights to Memphis from Harrison, Hot Springs and El Dorado in Arkansas. The airline also offers flexibility in scheduling. He said the airline can hold flights from Memphis to Jonesboro to accommodate incoming passengers, and flights can be held here or expedited to help passengers meet their scheduling needs into and out of Memphis. Scheduled flights from Jonesboro to Memphis are 7:20 a.m., 1:35 p.m. and 6:35 p.m., Monday through Friday. Flights from Memphis to Jonesboro are scheduled at 6:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Soon, passengers will have the option to fly SeaPort to Kansas City and

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

SeaPort Airlines co-pilot Melvin Jefferson rests in an airplane outside the Jonesboro Municipal Airport terminal on Feb. 23. The airline offers three flights per day Sunday-Friday to the Memphis International Airport. Salina, Kan., according to Jack Chaney, Jonesboro station manager. Passengers will be able to ride SeaPort from Memphis to Harrison, then connect with Kansas City, Chaney said. Fares haven’t been determined, but the flights are expected to begin in April, he said. Jonesboro had been

without passenger air service since June 2008, when Mesa Airline Group of Phoenix ended its twice-daily flights to Dallas-Fort Worth. SeaPort uses 9-passenger Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft capable of flying 258 miles per hour. Airline officials predicted the smaller, more fuel-efficient planes would give

SeaPort protection from the kinds of problems Mesa experienced with its 19-passenger planes. Airports in Arkansas served by SeaPort were recently awarded a grant under the Transportation Department’s Small Community Air Service Development Program to further promote passenger air travel after more

than a year without the service. Chaney said the grant should be helpful. “We’d like to have more passengers, but we’re just getting started,” Chaney said. “You’ve got to learn to crawl before you walk, and then you’ve got to walk before you run.” inman@jonesborosun.com

Randolph industries Newport industries fare well in shaky economy hope to add workers JUDY BEARD SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BY GEORGE JARED SUN STAFF WRITER

POCAHONTAS — A national recession has plagued business throughout the nation and in Northeast Arkansas since late 2008 and into this year, but at least two Randolph County industries hope to add workers in 2010. Atlantic Thermal Plastics LLC, which opened a footwear manufacturing plant in Pocahontas in 2008, promised to produce up to 200 jobs by the end of 2009, but lagging contracts kept the number of employed to about 120, according to company officials. In recent interviews ATP President-Owner Keith Lonergan said he wants to increase his labor force by 20 percent — if sales validate such an increase. Besides a struggling economy, ATP is competing against Chinese companies that make similar rubber boots, in-soles and other footwear at reduced prices, officials said. Company officials are hopeful the economy will rebound in 2010 and shoe sales will rise. Another Randolph County area employer is set to add at least 30 jobs to its roles after receiving city and state grant money to expand operations in 2009. Pocahontas city officials voted to give Pinnacle Frame and Accents $35,000 to hire new workers. The state is slated to give the company $250,000 to help Pinnacle expand operations. The company produces plastic, wood and other types of frames. Orders have picked up in recent months, and Pinnacle is set to start working on some new contracts, Pocahontas Mayor Gary Crocker said. Over the last year Randolph County has joined five other governmental entities — Lawrence County, Hoxie, Walnut Ridge, Pocahontas and Corning — to for the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority. NARIFA is set to embark on a 5-year project to bring industrial jobs to the cities and counties that are members. At a recent Walnut Ridge Airport meeting, commissioners agreed to lease up to 300 acres to NARIFA for an industrial park. Authority Treasurer Milton Smith said companies and industries are already starting to show interest in the project. Surveys and feasibility studies are slated for 2010, according to officials. The W.R. Airport was chosen and ideal location because of its access to major highway, air, water and rail transportation outlets. gjared@jonesborosun.com

NEWPORT — While thousands of Americans nationwide lost their jobs in 2009 as a result of the Great Recession that began in 2007, Newport industries reported few job losses. Arkansas Steel Associates, Newport’s second largest employer, reported no layoff of permanent employees although

‘We have seen several big projects completed that have allowed us to attract new business. These projects, which often go unnoticed, have resulted in over 700 jobs in the past decade.’ Jon Chadwell director, Newport Economic Development some temporary employees were laid off due to a slowdown in production. Arkansas Steel Associates LLC is a leading producer of railroad tie plates for United States, Canadian and Mexican markets, with growing service to railroads in the rest of the world. “We currently produce as much as 150,000 tons of tie plates per year for

Quality Matters Centers of Excellence Senior Services

Local businesses and industries understand that healthcare is an important issue for their employees. That’s why St. Bernards offers a comprehensive Occupational Medicine facility located in the city’s main Industrial Park. Our occupational therapists assist patients in maximizing their independence and returning to productive and satisfying lifestyles. For more information call Occupational Medicine at 931-0209. In addition, St. Bernards publishes an annual Quality Report, which contains quality, safety and cost information of value to area employers. The Quality Report is available online at www.stbernards.info/quality.

www.stbernards.info

fo n I y h ealt

Arkansas Steel Associates is one of the leading producers of railroad tie plates not only in the United States, but abroad. our major markets,” Human Resource Manager Dan Haygood said. “Since the transportation field is the last to rebound after a recession, we have seen a slight decline in production in early 2009, and we have seen improvement so far this year.” Medallion Foods, Newport’s leading employer saw a slight increase in production. “Many Americans have started buying store brands as opposed to name brands, and that is good for Medallion which produces chips for chains like Wal-Mart,” Newport Economic Development Director Jon Chadwell said.

New businesses Newport also welcomed new industry to town in 2009, “a good year for economic development with three new industries locating in Jackson County,” Chadwell said. The new additions include Rocky Mountain Hot Shot and Transportation, Specialty Sands LLC and The Glove Corp. Rocky Mountain Hot Shot opened with three employees but expects to build its staff to 30. Specialty Sands opened with four employees and plans to hire 20 soon. The newest recruit, The Glove Corp, will have a little different employee base in the Grimes Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. “They will hire seven free-world employees and up to 70 prisoners,” Chadwell said. “This is a really good program. A similar venture was opened in the McPherson Unit in 2007 and has

The local company employs more than 250 people and runs three shifts.

proven successful. “These businesses provide training and work experience which helps prepare the prisoners for return to society. It also allows them to earn money to make restitution,” Chadwell said.

Incentive funding Four companies received incentive funds for expansion in 2009. Southwest Steel Processing received $100,000 to add equipment. In exchange it has agreed to add 100 jobs by 2013. Curtner Lumber Company received $12,000 for expansion of a wood paneling line. It agreed to hire 12 new employees and has already increased to 18. Taylor Made Ambulance received $35,000 for renovations after fire destroyed much of its shop. It agreed to hire or retain 100 employees when repairs were completed and has kept that promise. Uniserv LLC received $25,000 to move its home office to Newport.

Infrastructure Chadwell says growth can be attributed in part to infrastructure investments. “We have seen several big projects completed that have allowed us to attract new business,” Chadwell said. “These projects, which often go unnoticed, have resulted in over 700 jobs in the past decade.” High-speed Internet lines have been run to the industrial park, a new rail spur has been added, the Biolac Treatment Plant

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was expanded, and the Sewer Treatment Plant is being expanded. “Each of these projects has helped us attract or retain industry,” Chadwell said. “Can you imagine trying to run a corporation without Internet access these days?”

ReNewport Thirteen local businesses took advantage of ReNewport Grant money which provided 50/50 matching grant funds for fiscal plant improvements in 2009. The grants, which could not exceed $2,500, were awarded to Sears, Family Practice Clinic, Howard’s Appliance World, Madden Furniture, Mosquito Control, Grady Auctions, Sensabaugh Insurance Agency, U.S. Pizza, MJ’s Restaurant & Catering, Darling Pharmacy, Fortune Inn and Suites, Attention Medical Supply and Miller-Newell Engineers. Chadwell said the NEDC has helped several Community Development Organizations like ASU-Newport, DRIVE, New Vision Newport, Moving Jackson County Forward, Newport Airport Commission, Newport School District and Depot Days, with matching funds. “The projects we help fund are ones we believe will provide significant economic impact,” he said. Despite tough economic times, Chadwell is pleased with the progress made in 2009. “We have seen growth in a time when many communities are experiencing shutdowns,” he said. “While some layoffs have occurred, all industries are hopeful they will be back to full staff by the end of the first quarter of this year.”


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IberiaBank grows despite banking crisis

IberiaBank Address: 1700 East Highland Drive, Jonesboro Phone: 802-1700 Web site: iberiabankfsb. com Principal officers: Phillip Jett, president-Northeast Arkansas; David Doherty, executive vice president-senior credit officer; Brad Snider, executive vice president-retail manager; Joe Cullum, senior vice president-commercial relationship manager; J.R. Blackburn, senior vice president-commercial relationship manager; Sandra Tweedy, senior vice presidentsenior relationship manager-public funds; Angela Robert, vice president-controller Additional information: Seven Northeast Arkansas associates have 25 or more year of seniority with the company. They are: Linda Norris, 40 years; Karen Hook, 35; Teressa Anderson, 35; Jan Bryant, 31; Sandra Tweedy, 29; Betty Taylor, 28, and Tracy Radcliff, 27.

BY CHARLENE CREECH SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JONESBORO — IberiaBank’s footprint is growing. The Northeast Arkansas financial institution, headquartered in Lafayette, La., has seen a plethora of changes in the past couple years, NEA President J. Phillip Jett and Executive Vice President-Senior Credit Officer David Doherty said. Jett, a native of Little Rock with 18 years in the banking industry, accepted the position and moved with his family to Jonesboro in August. He and his wife, Amanda, have two children, Riley, 9, and J., 8, both of whom attend Jonesboro School District magnet schools. Jett is a 1992 finance and banking graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. T h e b a n k ’s n a m e changed in May from Pulaski Bank and Trust to IberiaBank FSB, in recognition of the institution’s financial strength and stability in the market. “It was the absolute best decision,” Doherty said. “The bank has undergone a number of ownership and name changes over the years, and it was the right time to more closely align our franchise under one brand.” Doherty said educated consumers want to know if the bank will continue to meet their needs, retain their banker and if they can still do business the way they did before. The bank instantly reas-

James Byard | The Sun

This IberiaBank branch is located at 625 Southwest Drive in Jonesboro. sured its customers the new name would reflect no changes in service to its customers. The results were a smooth transition, he said. In May of 2008, IberiaBank Corp. acquired the assets of ANB Financial, headquartered in Bentonville, one of the first victims of the far-reaching banking crisis, he said. As the meltdown escalated, the government offered Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to strong banks to prime the nation’s lending pump by putting extra capital equal to 1-3 percent of an institution’s assets into healthy banks. The Board of Directors of IberiaBank researched, discussed and agonized over a decision to accept the TARP funding. “In March 2009,” said

Doherty, “we were the first bank in the country to pay back the TARP funds.” Doherty said the rules governing TARP funding changed as it evolved. The terms of TARP allowed the bank to repurchase the government’s investment, provided it could raise the money to do so from private sources, he explained. In the spring of 2008, IberiaBank’s leaders had moved into the Memphis market and recruited a new, but experienced, commercial team of bankers, Doherty said. “In February of 2009, we did the same thing in Mobile (Ala.), and in May of that year we hired a commercial team in Houston.” He said the bank positioned itself for growth with aggressive recruit-

ment of talent, pulling together a highly qualified executive team across the region. Jett said the company acquired CapitalSouth Bank on Aug. 21 through an FDIC-assisted acquisition. The bank is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. On Nov. 13, the company bought two failed institutions in Florida — the Orion Bank, headquartered in Naples, and Century Bank, headquartered in Sarasota. Jett and Doherty agreed that due to the economic troubles in Florida, the banks will undoubtedly be a more attractive market over the long-, rather than the short-term. IberiaBank Corp. is a multi-bank financial holding company with $9.7 billion in assets. The Company has 209 com-

bined offices, including 136 bank branch offices in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Florida. It has 26 title insurance offices in Arkansas and Louisiana, and mortgage representatives in 47 places in 12 states. Doherty said that although Northwest Arkansas has received more attention for rapid development in the past few years, the market in Northeast Arkansas has experienced “very steady growth over the long term,” citing the additions of NicePak, Nordex and Alberto-Culver to its industrial base. Jett said that while many institutions were scaling back on branch locations, positions and associates, “we’re not sitting still.” He said the

bank is expanding its Southwest Drive office and has plans to expand its presence in downtown Jonesboro. “Now, the downtown office is a ‘transaction only’ location,” he said. “The plan is to make that location a full-service banking center, much like our Highland Drive location, thus doubling our full-service locations in Jonesboro from two to four.” IberiaBank is also expanding its Highland office at the entrance to Cherokee Village.

BancorpSouth officials proud of recognition as ‘Best Bank’ BY KARIN HILL SUN STAFF WRITER

JONESBORO — Forbes.com ranked BancorpSouth in January as the 24th “Best Bank in America,” marking a year of continued success for this member of the local banking industry. BancorpSouth’s locations and personnel in Northeast Arkansas remain largely unchanged since last year, but officials have made efforts to modernize in several areas. The Web site has extensive information with new updates added regularly. Included are features such as a Small Business Resource Center and consumer alerts. BancorpSouth also has its own Facebook page and recently introduced a new mobile banking iPhone application. “Social media has become increasingly important, and it’s a good way to connect with our customers,” Marketing Officer Caryl Steele said. The standard FDIC insurance amount increased to $250,000 per depositor. The $250,000 limit is permanent for certain retirement accounts (including IRAs) and is temporary for all other deposit accounts

BancorpSouth Location: In Jonesboro — 2201 Fair Park Blvd., 5902 East Johnson Ave., 700 South Main St., 1901 West Parker Road. Locations are also in Paragould, Marmaduke, Pocahontas, Osceola and Wilson. Phone: 972-9800 (Fair Park) Web site: www.bancorp south.com through Dec. 31, 2013. On Jan. 1, 2014, the standard insurance amount will return to $100,000 per depositor for all deposit accounts except certain retirement accounts, which will remain at $250,000 per depositor. On Sept. 23, 2008, BancorpSouth was added to the S&P MidCap 400 index, which is one of the most widely used stock market indices for midsized companies. It covers 7 percent of the U.S. equities markets and is comprised of companies that meet several areas of specific criteria including financial viability. BancorpSouth is a $13.2 billion-asset bank holding company. With more than 4,000 employees, the company operates about 286 banking and mortgage locations in Ala-

bama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. The local division of BancorpSouth consists of 11 locations in Craighead, Greene, Randolph and Mississippi counties: four in Jonesboro, three in Paragould, and one each in Marmaduke, Pocahontas, Osceola and Wilson. “Even though BancorpSouth is unique in that it is a collection of community banks, we are still a community bank, and we know our customers, and we take care of them,” Steele said. “Customer service is something that we strive for. As convenient as online banking and debit cards and mobile banking are, it is even more important that we know our customers, we treat them the way they want to be treated, and more importantly treat them the way we want to be treated because we’re customers, too.” In addition to providing traditional banking services, credit cards, mortgages, trust and fiduciary services, the company provides investment services through its subsidiary BancorpSouth Investment Services Inc. and insurance services through its subsidiary

Simmons expands services in 2009 JONESBORO — Simmons First Bank is celebrating its second year in Paragould, 25th year in Jonesboro and 107 years in existence. Notable progress in 2009 includes free business checking and ex-

‘This is our second year in the Paragould market, which has been a good, solid growth in that community.’ Mallory Youngman marketing officer, Simmons First Bank panded cash management services, Marketing Officer Mallory Youngman said. “This is our second year in the Paragould market,

which has been a good, solid growth in that community,” she said. The bank employees 75 associates in Northeast Arkansas and more than 1,000 in Arkansas. The bank was founded in 1903 in Pine Bluff and has been in Jonesboro for about 25 years, Youngman said. “We have the same philosophy of putting the customers first that has helped us remain strong statewide for over 107 years,” she said. Simmons operates

eight affiliate banks that conduct financial operations from 88 offices in 47 communities across the state, the bank’s Web site says. “Besides banking, we’ve continued to be a strong presence in Northeast Arkansas,” Youngman said. “We’ve continued our strong perseverance with United Way, Habitat for Humanity and many other nonprofit organizations. We had over 3,300 volunteer hours from Simmons associates in 2009.”

Need to know what to do or where to go this weekend? Check out our GETTIN’ OUT page.

BancorpSouth Insurance Services Inc. BancorpSouth’s common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol BXS. Specialty services in NEA include BancorpSouth Mortgage and Ban-

corpSouth Trust & Asset Management, both in Jonesboro. BancorpSouth’s NEA bank presidents are Joe Wi l l i a m s , C r a i g h e a d County; Joe Wessell, Greene County; Linda Warhurst, Mississippi

County; and Bev Ducker, Pocahontas. Divisional president is Steve Gramling, and regional marketing and sales coordinator is Judy Dacus. khill@jonesborosun.com

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‘Grown so fast’ Liberty Bank official: Opportunity ahead BY JOHN M. FLORA SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JONESBORO — Liberty Bank has enjoyed rapid growth in its first nine years, and bank President John Freeman sees a bright future, despite the nationwide recession. “Our story is unique,” Freeman said. “We’ve grown so fast since 2001. For us to be a $2.5 billion bank in that short time is remarkable. And in spite of the economic downturn, we feel like we’re positioned quite well. “We’re poised for a lot more growth in the future. We look for every opportunity to expand our bank, and if the right opportunity comes along, we’ll seize it,” he said. Freeman said he sees interest rates remaining flat for the rest of 2010 but believes the recession has bottomed out. Despite the economic downturn, he said, the bank’s home loan department had one of its best years ever in 2009. He cites data from the Arkansas Realtors Association showing statewide home sales rose by 33 percent in 2009. Consequently, Liberty Bank’s mortgage department made 1,110 home loans for more than $143 million last year.

Liberty Bank, headquartered in Jonesboro, has 619 employees in 45 branches statewide.

Partnership In an effort to serve customers in places where Liberty doesn’t have branches, he said, the bank has partnered with Walgreens to offer Liberty ATM service in Fayetteville, Rogers, Bella Vista, Springdale, Fort Smith, Alma, Batesville and Searcy. Liberty bank customers can now use these 16 new ATMs without paying transaction fees. Liberty has also partnered with Velocity to offer customers rewards for debit card usage. Customers can now earn prizes by using their Liberty debit card for everyday purchases. Prize certificates are issued quarterly, and customers can bank their points or order prizes from mylibertyrewards.com. Freeman said he is proud of Liberty Bank’s role in the Jonesboro community. The bank has worked with several nonprofit organizations and school systems to improve financial literacy. Liberty Bank has provided classes to more than 15

John M. Flora | Special to The Sun Photo Illustration

Liberty Bank teller Mitul Patel uses the drive-through video link to help bank employee Amy Osment check her balance in this photo illustration. organizations and schools across the state, teaching budgeting, credit repair, how to get credit and how to balance a checkbook. Liberty also co-sponsors workshops for small business owners in partnership with the Small Business Development Center.

Employees recognized Several Liberty Bank staff members earned community recognition in the past year: Brad Crawley, vice president for informa-

tion systems, and Nathan Harris, assistant vice president for lending, were selected as two of Northeast Arkansas Business Today’s 2010 Outstanding Young Executives, and Lisa Gazaway, marketing officer at Paragould, was chosen as one of Northeast Arkansas Businesses Today’s 2009 Outstanding Young Executives. Lorre Gookin earned the designation of Certified IPA Services Professional from the Institute of Certified Bankers. April Biggs received

the Outstanding Young Professional Award from the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce. Libby Donohue was the recipient of the Roy H. Jolly Volunteer Award from the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce. It is the highest award bestowed on a chamber member for community service. Donohue was recognized for her work in the Winter Wonderland seasonal display in downtown Jonesboro. Wallace Fowler, Liberty Bank chairman and

chief executive officer, was honored by the Arkansas Sheriffs Youth Ranches at the Arkansas Children’s Award Dinner. Jama Fowler was honored by AY magazine as one of the Most Powerful Women in Arkansas for philanthropy. Freeman said Liberty Bank is expanding its services with the addition of mobile banking, which also includes bill pay. Freeman said Liberty Bank has about 40 percent of the market share in Craighead County.

First Security plans to expand BY KARIN HILL SUN STAFF WRITER

John M. Flora | Special to The Sun

Focus Community Bank President Chad Waggoner goes over a financial document with customer Jason Marshall of Jonesboro in Waggoner’s office at 406 Southwest Drive.

Bank focuses on innovation BY JOHN M. FLORA SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JONESBORO — Focus Bank is weathering the recession well and is focused on offering its customers a variety of innovative products and services. Bankrate.com, a partner of MSN Money and one of the Internet’s leading aggregators of information on more than 100 financial products, gives the Charleston, Mo.-headquartered bank a stable 4-star rating. Based on data collected last Sept. 30, the site reports Focus Bank had deposits of nearly $434 million, loans of more than $476 million and equity of nearly $56 million, assessing the institution’s return on equity as “very healthy.” Focus Bank reported earnings of $2,580,000 in the 9-month period ending last Sept. 30. Focus is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. The institution began as First Security State Bank in 1930 in Charleston, Mo. A multi-bank holding company, Security State Bancshares, was formed in 1987, and the bank began a period of expansion. The first Arkansas branch opened as the Bank of Paragould in October 1998. Building on success in the Paragould and Marmaduke markets, the bank expanded to Jonesboro. The company was renamed under the unifying name of Focus Bank. Also at this time, a new branch opened on Linwood Drive in Paragould along with an additional Jonesboro branch. Focus Bank now serves its customers with a dozen locations throughout Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. In addition to those branches, Focus maintains 15 ATMs in nine communities in the region. Regional Bank President Glen Burnett said Focus Bank remains committed to growing and expanding in this area. “My goal is to achieve our mission of delivering exceptional financial services by seeking insight from our clients, exceeding shareholder expectations, empowering our staff to achieve personal and professional goals and making a difference in our communities,” Burnett said. Focus Marketing Director Anna Ferrell said a third Jonesboro Focus

Focus Bank Founded: 1930 Headquarters: 101 South Main St., Charleston, Mo. 63834 President and CEO: Don Burnett Regional Bank President: Glen Burnett Branches: 12 in Arkansas and Missouri ATM Locations: 15 in nine communities Employees: 170 Web site: www.focusbank.com Bank location is planned for the Hilltop area of Jonesboro. She cited an array of innovative products and services offered to customers in the past year, including online account opening, mobile banking, MAXTunes checking and the MAXSavers program. MAXTunes is a free checking account that earns free iTunes downloads monthly and qualifies the depositor for free ATM fee refunds nationwide. MAXSavers and MAXimum

‘My goal is to achieve our mission of delivering exceptional financial services by seeking insight from our clients ... and making a difference in our communities.’ Glen Burnett regional bank president, Focus Bank free checking work together to save automatically by making a monthly interest deposit and assuring nationwide ATM fee refunds of up to $25 per statement cycle. Ferrell said the mix of products and services puts Focus Bank on par with the mega banks. And, she said, the ability to open accounts online, makes Focus a community bank for anyone in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and parts of Illinois. Without the need for a building to represent a bank, customers can open and manage their accounts online, day or night, 365 days a year.

JONESBORO — Two years after its first permanent office in Jonesboro was completed, First Security Bank has experienced steady growth and has plans for expansion. One of the most significant areas of growth was in the mortgage lending division, President and CEO Brad Edwards said. “Our ability to underwrite long-term mortgage loans allows us to respond quickly to customer requests and close transactions in a timely manner,” he said. “We recently added another mortgage loan officer and processor that effectively doubled the size of our mortgage operation and allows us to provide home loans from our Southwest Drive banking facility as well as the main office on Stadium Boulevard.” First Security originally was chartered more than 75 years ago in Searcy as a privately owned, community-based bank. Ownership remains private today with the same owner since 1977. Jonesboro operations began in 2006 with two temporary locations opening simultaneously — a first for Jonesboro — in the fall. Construction of the main office was complete in February 2008, and the new branch facil-

First Security Bank Locations: 1341 Stadium Blvd.; 313 Southwest Drive Web site: www.firstsecu ritybank.org Local key officers: Brad Edwards, president & CEO, Jonesboro; Michael Polk, vice president of lending; Beth Crockett, vice president and mortgage loan originator; Stephanie Nelson, mortgage loan originator ity on Southwest Drive was completed in July of the same year. The bank has 17 employees, a 21 percent increase over last year. The mortgage lending staff alone doubled during that time. First Security also experienced significant growth in market share from 2008 to 2009. The

growth rate was 124 percent, making First Security one of the fastest growing banks in Jonesboro in 2009, Edwards said. He said there are plans to hire additional staff to support growth anticipated in 2010, including more lending personnel. “Branch expansion is also possible for 2010 to better serve our customers and the community,” he said. Reynie Rutledge serves as chairman of the Searcy-based corporation. Supported by the strength of $369 million in total capital and $3.160 billion in assets, First Security touts its ability to meet any financing need right here in Arkansas. There are more than 900 employees covering locations throughout the state. khill@jonesborosun.com

James Byard | The Sun

The First Security Bank located at 313 Southwest Drive in Jonesboro.

Southern increases reach in NEA JONESBORO — Southern Bank operates 14 branches in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. Founded as a savings and loan in 1887, it was converted from a mutual form of ownership to a stock savings bank in 1994. In 2004 the company changed its charter from a savings to a commercial bank. Since 2006, it has opened or acquired branches in Sikeston and Matthews, Mo., and Jonesboro, Paragould, Leachville and Brookland. In the 4-year period ending Dec. 31, assets grew by $186 million, or 54 percent, a compounded annual growth rate of over 11 percent, according to a news release. Branches in Paragould and Jonesboro have been remodeled with ribbon cuttings and open houses held in Paragould on March 25 and 26 and scheduled in Jonesboro for April 8 and 9. The bank offers a wide array of financial services including real estate, operating and other con-

Southern Bank Principal officers: Greg Steffens, president and chief executive officer; Lindley Smith, Jonesboro market president; Kimberly Capps, chief operations officer; Bill Hribovsek, chief lending officer; Matt Funke, chief financial officer; Lora Daves, chief of credit administration On the Web: www.bank withsouthern.com sumer loans; certificates of deposit; savings and checking accounts; Internet and mobile banking with bill payment services; cash management products; debit and ATM cards. Because of its background as a savings bank, Southern is one of a few

banks that will make longterm fixed-rate loans without selling them into the secondary market, according to a news release. In 2009 Southern saw balances in its Kasasa Cash accounts, a checking account with an available 5.01 percent APY, almost triple becoming nearly 10 percent of total deposits, according to the news release. Its agricultural lending portfolio continues to grow and now makes up nearly 15 percent of total loans. Southern has a current employment of 140, which increased substantially in 2009 with the acquisition of four branches in Northeast Arkansas. Southern Bank’s Jonesboro office is at 2775 East Nettleton Ave.

Gotta get those pictures! Get prints of photos that appear in The Sun through our Web site: www.jonesborosun.com


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SUNDAY, MARCH 28, 2010

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Officials: Merger means progress BY CHARLENE CREECH SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JONESBORO — The merger of Heritage Capital Corp. of Jonesboro and First National Security Co. of Hot Springs (FNSC) was a merger of holding companies, said Steve May, president and chief executive officer of Heritage Bank. “We are still Heritage Bank, a separate, standalone bank,” said May, who has 20 years with the bank. “We’re a sister bank to First National Bank of Hot Springs and First National Bank of Idabel, Okla., and we are all part of FNSC’s family of community banks.” Heritage Bank has the same management and the same board of directors, the Jonesboro native said, adding, “Our operations did not change. Our customers have not and will not experience any changes.” Larry Grisham, chairman of the bank’s board of directors, talked about the transaction with FNSC, which was finalized in December 2009. “We had been batting this idea back and forth for some time,” said Grisham, who has 23 years of banking experience. “Dan Horton is a banking consultant in Arkansas. He was our banking consultant for 23 years. In fact, he was the banking consultant when Nelson (Henry) and I bought the bank from Sen. J. Lee Bearden of Leachville.”

Heritage Bank Address: 2009 Brown’s Lane, Jonesboro Phone: 870-802-2344 Web site: www.heritage bankark.com Principal officers: Larry Grisham, chairman of the board; Steve May, president and CEO; Diane Steiling, executive vice president-chief financial officer; Jeff Brecklein, executive vice president-senior lending officer; Sherri Carroll, senior vice president-credit analyst Horton owned banks in South Arkansas and in Hot Springs, along with his consulting business, until he sold his banks about three years ago. “The banks were sold to John Hendrix of DeQueen, who retained Dan to run his banks,” Grisham said. “Horton is now president and CEO of First National Bank of Hot Springs, and the parent company, FNSC. First National Bank operates 29 branches in southwest Arkansas and a stand-alone bank, First National Bank of Idabel, Okla. With the addition of Heritage Bank, we are now a 3-bank holding company with over $1 billion in total assets.” Although Heritage had received three previous offers, all were turned down, but Grisham said, “We were serious about this one.” He said that while Heritage had approximately 240 stockholders, First

National had one major stockholder, John Hendrix. Proxies were sent out, and a shareholders’ meeting was held in December. “The transaction was unanimously approved,” Grisham said. Grisham remains as active in Heritage Bank’s daily operation as ever. “Steve runs the bank, but we talk every day … about things we’re going to do to be progressive in the future,” Grisham said. The bank’s growth in the past year has been quite visible, May said, with approximately $41 million in asset growth and approximately $31 million in deposit growth. Heritage Bank has total assets of approximately $265 million. Both Grisham and May said that in 2009 Heritage Bank had the most profitable year in the history of the bank. “We had approximately a 1 percent return on assets and very few loan losses,” May said. “From the Call Report [a quarterly report of condition and income required of all national, state and insured non-member banks by the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council], you can see that on our $175 million loan portfolio, Heritage Bank showed net loan losses of less than $250,000, and our past due loans averaged under 1 percent.” The bankers said during the recent extensive banking bail-out period, Heritage Bank accepted

no TARP (the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program) money. “We didn’t feel it was a good deal for us,” May said. “We didn’t need any government assistance,” Grisham added. “Our capital was strong. We did not have excessive loan problems. There was no need for TARP funds at Heritage Bank.” In addition to its main bank and central location at 2009 Brown’s Lane in Jonesboro, Heritage Bank has seven single, full-service locations on Caraway Road, Southwest Drive and in downtown Jonesboro, as well as in Leachville, Caraway, Monette and Manila. The bank also has stand-alone ATMs, including one in each local hospital. Heritage has 70 employees at its multi-locations and a low turnover rate. “Our employees are friends, as well as coworkers,” Grisham said. “And it’s very comforting, from a customer standpoint, to walk in the front door and see the familiar faces every day.” May said he is “prejudiced” but believes “we have the best staff of any bank in town.” He said he is “proud of our staff and our senior management. They do an outstanding job of managing the bank and being active in the community. We want to provide a safe and rewarding place for our staff to work and for customers to fulfill their

Saundra Sovick | The Sun

Larry Grisham (left), Heritage Bank board of directors chairman, and Steve May, president and chief executive officer, pause for a photograph at the bank in Jonesboro. banking needs.” May and Grisham agreed that the employees of Heritage Bank “truly understand” what it means to be a community bank. “We make all types of loans — commercial, home, auto, agriculture,” Grisham said. “We know most of our customers by first name.” He said that many have been bank customers from 15 to 20 years, lending the bank a long-standing, loyal customer base. “Being a community bank is being a stable organization that helps in the community ... that can help our customers individually,” he said.

The Jonesboro bankers predict a bright year ahead. “Overall, there has been a lot of turmoil in banking,” May said. “But in Jonesboro we’re blessed to not only have a stable economy, but also a lot of very good banks. There is a spirit of friendly competition among the banks, but we all work together for the good of the community and Northeast Arkansas.” Grisham said Jonesboro is “a great place to have a business or a bank.” Heritage Bank employees with at least 25 years’ service are Debbie Austin in accounting and Diane Davis in compliance.

First National Bank’s assets, Regions staying true to tradition customers increase in 2009 BY KEITH INMAN SUN STAFF WRITER

BY KELLIE COBB SUN STAFF WRITER

PARAGOULD — Just as Northeast Arkansas has grown, so has First National Bank. At the end of 2009, the bank had total assets of $633 million, up $32 million from the previous year, said Chuck Palmer, vice president of marketing at FNB. The past year has also brought growth in the bank’s total loans, which were up $22 million to $480 million, a gain of 4.9 percent. Total deposits were up $16 million to $492 million at the end of 2009. Arkansas Business ranked FNB as the 17th largest bank in assets in Arkansas in its report released in April 2009, Palmer said. Service has been the foundation of FNB. The bank strives to provide the very best in customer and community services. The bank’s experienced lenders provide a full range of the lending products for consumer, commercial, agricultural and mortgage needs. The recent low interest rates mean that financing is now more affordable. “Thanks to their efforts many new customers have joined FNB during the past year. The bank has also received many new customers through the recommendation of its current customers to their neighbors, friends and business associates,” Palmer said, adding that the bank adds approximately 4,000 new checking accounts annually. “FNB appreciates the confidence of both its new customers and its long-time customers.” FNB added FirstMobile banking to its services several months ago. This allows “banking without boundaries” using one’s mobile phone or device. Palmer said only a small number of banks nationwide offer this service, and it has been well received by customers. Mobile banking is among the full range of deposit services offered through FNB. Other services include free check-

Kellie Cobb | The Sun

Sherri Price, loan assistant, and Kyle Blankenship in agricommercial lending go over documents at First National Bank in Elk Park in Jonesboro. ing, high-yield savings, certificates of deposit, IRAs and more. FNB customers have access to 10 local ATMs. The bank also offers the convenient VISA Check Card, which provides customers access to their checking account at retail locations worldwide. The cards are accessible to thousands of ATMs around the world in the PLUS ATM network. The bank’s free Internet banking and bill pay service is an efficient and convenient way to manage one’s finances.

Community service The bank and its employees have always been active in building a better community. The bank’s employees can be found working in many community service organizations from the chamber of commerce and civic clubs to churches and schools. “We try to take an active role in the community,” said Brian Clem, senior vice president of FNB’s Jonesboro branches. Clem said a number of employees serve on boards of organizations including Abilities Unlimited and the United Way.

5-star rating According to the independent bank research firm, Bauer Financial of Coral Gables, Fla., FNB is among the strongest

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banks in the nation. As part of their analysis Bauer assigns each bank in the United States a rating from one to five stars. FNB has earned the highest possible rating: the 5-Star rating. It is among an elite group of only 5 percent of banks nationwide to have maintained the 5-star rating for 20 consecutive years or longer. The bank’s past progress makes it even more optimistic about the future of Northeast Arkansas. “We anticipate growth this next year,” Clem said. “We think the outlook is good, and we’re excited. We’re real positive about how the future looks as far as loan demand and loan growth.”

JONESBORO — Regions Bank has remained true to the mission of its predecessor banks in Jonesboro, said Larry Worsham, Northeast Arkansas president and CEO. Production agriculture and agri-business were primary focuses of both Mercantile Bank and the Bank of Nettleton, and despite mergers, that’s still the case locally, he said. “We know that lots of aspects of our economy are still soft out there, commercial real estate and construction, but agri is still performing real good,” Worsham said. Regions is the largest ag lender among banks in NEA, said Jim Tubbs, executive vice president, who leads agricultural lending. Regions has extended more than $100 million in farm loans in NEA and more than $40 million more in agri-related businesses, he said. “We do business with the equipment dealerships, cotton gins, rice brokers. Ag aviation is a big business here, and we’re active in all those,” Tubbs said. Wholesale seed companies also comprise a large part of Regions’ business, he said. Assisting those large companies has become the focus of Regions Bank in NEA, Tubbs said. “Those businesses really need the larger banks at times in order to manage their cash, their payroll systems, just the way they move money around inter-state,” Tubbs said. “We’ve got the technology to do that, and they’re seeing each year the efficiencies of doing that.” Tubbs has seen few farmers experiencing credit problems, despite a year of major weather calamities. Regions continues to lead the way in agricultural lending because of the strength of the lending staff, Tubbs said. “Most people want to deal with someone who knows the business, someone who lives here, grew up here, and we feel like we fill that,” Tubbs said. “We’ve got the experience needed to deal with this specialized business.”

Regions Bank

Chief executives: Larry Worsham, Northeast Arkansas president and chief executive officer; Grayson Hall, president and CEO of Regions Financial, effective April 1 Location: Main branch, 2400 East Highland Drive, Jonesboro; other locations throughout Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas Phone: 931-1000; (205) 944-1300 (headquarters) Web site: www.regions.com

Tubbs grew up on a farm in Craighead County, and his extended family continues to farm. He has been involved in farm lending for more than 25 years. It’s the same for Regions lenders in Walnut Ridge, Newport and Wynne, he said. “Jerry Haralson at Wynne had a career with Dupont Ag Chemicals,” Tubbs said. “Keith Brand at Walnut Ridge has been in ag banking for at least 20 years. John House at Newport has a part-time farm himself. He loves that business, just like we all do; we have a passion for agriculture.” Brett Provost in the Jonesboro office was a crop consultant before coming to work for Regions Bank, Tubbs said. In addition to farm lending, Tubbs said the bank’s trust department offers management services for family land trusts. The NEA operations of Regions Bank is part of Regions Financial Corp., with $140 billion in assets. It’s a member of the S&P 100 Index, and one of the nation’s largest full-service providers of consumer and commercial banking, trust, securities brokerage, mortgage and insurance products and services. Regions serves customers in 16 states across the South, Midwest and Texas and operates approximately 1,900 banking offices and 2,300 ATMs. Its investment and securities brokerage trust and asset management division, Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc., provides services from more than 300 offices. inman@jonesborosun.com

kb@jonesborosun.com

First National Bank Principal officers: Bill Brewer, chairman; Donald Guinn, president and CEO; Matt Rankin, Jonesboro community president, senior lending and chief operating officer Phone: Jonesboro — 9749800; Paragould — 2398521; Corning — 8573592 Web site: www.fnbank .net Total employment: 150 History: Established on March 22, 1889, in Paragould as Bank of Paragould. The name was changed to First National Bank in 1903 after the bank adopted a national banking charter.

Keith Inman | The Sun

From left, Larry Worsham, president of Regions Bank in Northeast Arkansas; Jim Tubbs, executive vice president in charge of ag lending; and Brett Provost, ag lender, pose at the entrance of the lending office.

Bank of America offers services locally JONESBORO — Bank of America operates locations at 630 Southwest Drive and 2500 East Highland Drive, featuring lobby and drive-up window services, including free checking and bill pay. The mortgage office is housed at the Highland office.

Customers can use a talking automated teller machine 24-hours-a-day and make deposits with it. Service is also available in Braille for visually impaired customers. Other services include refinancing options and IRAs (individual retirement accounts).


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THE JONESBORO SUN

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OUTLOOK 2010

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SUNDAY, MARCH 28, 2010

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