Taking place at Hempstead Hall around midday on Tuesday was the 36e Hempstead County Economic Development Industry Annual Meeting and Luncheon. Awards were presented and speeches were given in which the few hundred people seated at tables could learn of the industrial progress of the county and the means to sustain it.
One of the awards presented in the second half of the meeting, New Investor of the Year, went to SWArk.Today, a Hope-based media company that produces a news website and provides other services using media technology to serve local businesses and agencies. . HCEDC Vice President Steve Lance, having invited SWArk owners and management to the podium, said he was speaking to Gary Chambless, the owner of a Hope Hotel. Chambless was unable to attend lunch on Tuesday for health reasons.
“Jim [Hawley] and Mark [Ross], we appreciate you starting this business, and it’s growing before our eyes,” Lance said. “We just wish you the best and continued success. Thank you for your interest in becoming an EDC member today.
Lance said Chambless, who employed SWArk Today general manager Bren Yocum and publicity manager Shelly Short at Western Sizzlin’, said he was proud of them and that Yocum was “afraid of nothing.” She even stood up to old Perry Campbell himself.
Lance ended by congratulating SWArk, thanking him for his support and welcoming him as a new member of EDC.
At the start of Tuesday’s presentations, after giving attendees time to enjoy a lunch of catfish and chicken fillets with hushpuppies and coleslaw, HCEDC Chairman LaDell Douglas convened a meeting of business of the organization. The meeting saw the approval of the 2021 minutes and financial reports, then moved to HCEDC Chairman Steve Harris’ report on the county’s economic progress and the organization’s work over the course of the year. past year.
Harris said the county has seen no major closures and four major expansions at New Millenium, Pafford, Brentwood and Tyson’s. “I am happy to report this year,” he said, “that our manufacturing base is in good shape. We are making progress in recruitment efforts, last year from Danson. We had several projects this year, and we are still working on a few active projects with the arrival of a new industry. »
Harris also mentioned workforce improvement efforts, involving Hope High School with Bobcat Works, which he described as “back on track” after his efforts were scaled back during the worst of the pandemic. . “We had several students placed in the spring and are ready to start placing students again this fall.” Harris invited meeting and luncheon attendees to come tomorrow to the 1:30 p.m. meeting in the Hope High cafeteria where students interested in being hired as interns will be available for potential employers to meet. He asked employers interested in hiring Bobcat Works participants to contact the HCEDC office (1-870-777-8485).
Another workforce improvement effort, Harris said, has been an effort working with ACT and the Southwest Arkansas Development Alliance to support the National Career Readiness Certificate program. He said 455 tests had been carried out so far to obtain the certificate. Harris said that means the program is 88% of the way to certification.
Turning to macroeconomics, Harris said there had been a 100% recession prediction rate based on inverted yield curves. (According to Forbes.com, “A yield curve is a tool that helps you understand bond markets, interest rates, and the health of the U.S. economy as a whole. With a yield curve, you can easily visualize and comparing investor earnings from short- and long-term bonds, including US Treasuries, which have set the tone for the rest of the economy.
Yield curves are inverted, according to Forbes, when “rates on shorter maturities are higher than those on longer maturities, this creates an inverted yield curve. In this case, the yield curve slopes to the right instead of rising. It may indicate a recession or a bear market, where the market may experience prolonged declines in bond prices and yields. »
Harris said: “I think we’re in this situation [recession], but hopefully it will be a short-lived recession. He pointed to the jobless rate below the state average unemployment rate as an encouraging sign that the recession is mild.
At the end of the report, the official meeting of the organization was adjourned and the annual speakers and awards ceremony began.
The guest speaker was Randy King, Tyson plant manager, who said the local processing plant was in the process of adding a new county road that would itself allow for plant expansion through a new building. The new Rocky Mound Road hatchery, King said, would be online by January 2024. The old Nashville and Hope hatcheries, he said, would be demolished.
He also described, accompanied by a slide show, the stages of the process leading to the construction of the new mill. The recently completed 160-foot-tall feed mill near Fulton, which opened in June, employs around 62 people. King said that included hiring “five or six” more truck drivers than planned and said “hiring truck drivers is a challenge. ”
Currently, King said, the combination of the Hope and Nashville plants processes 1,980,000 chickens per week. In January 2024, following expansions, King said that number would increase to around 2,600,000. The company hopes to grow from 37 million to 42 million processed per week. “We are a growing company,” King said. “We’re taking on the challenge of creating more protein and it’s been a great experience to be a part of it.”
King said 48% of the company’s 1,350 “team members” working at Hempstead County facilities are from the county. “It’s pretty awesome,” he said, adding that around 100 to 110 new chicken-raising homes are expected to be built for Tyson despite the challenges of inflation.
King ended by saying that after two years under it, his factory complex finally reached its desired number of employees last week.
In response to a two-part question from EDC board member Mark Ross, King said the time a truck had to wait to be filled with animal feed at the new plant was now three. minutes, compared to 20 to 25 minutes in the old factory. as a result of automation in the new. King said the new plant’s rail spur can unload 110 railcars of corn or soybeans in 9.5 hours. He also said it took about two weeks for his Tyson plant to hire a new worker.
Awards given by the organization included the following:
- Dwane and Catherine Rowe, local farmers, received a New Investor Award.
- SWArk.Today, as noted, also won a New Investor Award.
- Danson’s, a supplier of wood pellets to power grills and, more recently, the grills themselves, won the New Industry of the Year award.
- Tyson Foods won the Existing Industry of the Year award.
- Pafford won the Local Industry of the Year award.
Closing the meeting, LaDell Douglas urged attendees to vote for the 1/4 cent sales tax that will appear on Hempstead County ballots for the Nov. 8 election. The tax would help fund the continued work of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation.