SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) — Kayla Lester didn't care which came first — the chicken or the egg. She used a pipette to fill vials and test for salmonella in a bird's blood sample. Twenty-four strains can strike poultry, said Gordon Whitbeck, a microbiologist.
Whitbeck Laboratories is just one link in the long chain of the food processing industry. Serving mostly the poultry industry, the lab employees test for everything from disease to the quality of feed, the chicken and the egg, and the products on grocery store shelves.
The business' owner, Whitbeck, credits much of his success to the lab's location in the Springdale technology park on Huntsville Avenue west of Old Missouri Road, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Springdale has designated nearly 1,000 acres on the east side of town for industrial use. In addition to the technology park, the city owns an industrial park on Turnbow Avenue behind Northwest Technical Institute and 87 acres on Kendrick Avenue it can develop.
Thirteen of the city's 22 lots in the industrial park have been sold, and Perry Webb, president of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, expects the empties to sell quickly when the roads in the industrial park are extended to Butterfield Coach Road. Each lot is about 2 acres.
The city owns the land until it's sold. The appointed members of the city's Public Facilities Board act as the agent, making decisions about the land. The chamber acts as the custodian of the land.
Officials at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission described a city's industrial park as an area where the city already has incurred the expense of the infrastructure such as electricity, gas, water, wastewater, roads and fiber optics needed to support multiple industrial tenants.
All that works to attract businesses. More businesses mean more jobs. More jobs mean more sales tax revenue for the city, which allows the city to improve services.
"The bottom line: It's jobs, pure and simple," Webb said.
Industrial and technology parks and the companies there bring jobs to the city, he said.
The Arkansas Economic Development Commission agrees.
"If a company locates, then residents have more opportunities for gainful employment," officials of the commission said in response to questions.
The workers who fill those jobs spend their money in the city, Webb said.
"They spend it at banks, in downtown, to go to ballgames at Arvest Ballpark," he said.
Part of what they spend is returned to the city as sales tax revenue. Reports of February's sales tax collection showed an increase of 10% over the same month last year, according to Wyman Morgan, the city's director of finance and administration. The returns for 2018 were up between 5 and 6%.
"Cities in Arkansas live or die by sales taxes," Mayor Doug Sprouse said. "It's a large part of our revenue. As we continue to grow, it helps in our ability to return services to the citizens."
Residents can enjoy things such as new streets and parks and increased protection from the police and fire departments.
"To be competitive in today's economy, communities must be prepared for industrial and technology prospects," the state's economic development officials said. "One sign of preparation and foresight is to have a piece of land ready for their company to locate."
"People told me my business would increase if I moved out here," Whitbeck said. "I just didn't realize how much."
He reported a 50% increase in the number of samples his employees handle today compared to those worked in a 4,000-square-foot-building on Backus Avenue. The company has grown from 17 to 25 employees since its move in 2017.
Open For Business
Webb recently planted a seed in the mind of board members during the Public Facilities meeting. He shared a map of the city's 87 acres on Kendrick and told the five men to start thinking about building infrastructure. He expects completion of the first phase of development in about 18 months.
The land sits in an area deannexed from Bethel Heights and annexed into Springdale. The land adjoins the newest section of Arkansas 265, set to open this spring. In fact, the board donated a section of the land to the Arkansas Department of Transportation to build the new highway.
Widening Huntsville Avenue spurred development in the technology park, Webb said. He thinks the extension of Arkansas 265 will push it along Kendrick Avenue.
Many businesses have moved to the city's industrial park behind Northwest Technical Institute. The park is home to FPEC, Modern Fence and Supply, YRC Freight and American Tubing. The Facilities Board sold three lots to American Tubing in 2013 for a $3.2 million expansion.
The area designated as a technology park along Huntsville east of Old Missouri Road boasts Kawneer, NanoMech, a Tyson Foods incubator and Whitbeck Laboratories among others.
Whitbeck loves his location. Couriers deliver samples from around the four-state region, he said, and they have easy access to U.S. 412, Arkansas 265, Huntsville and a straight route to Interstate 49.
"And we're first on the delivery list every morning," he said with a laugh. The UPS terminal for Northwest Arkansas is just down the street.
The owners of several businesses recently moving to the city's industrial and technology parks thought they needed to sit close to Interstate 49 for success, Webb noted.
"But then they saw the land prices out there and called me back," he said.
Pro-Fab of Northwest Arkansas recently purchased the lot next to its facility on Ford Avenue. The company paid $148,000 for the roughly 2-acre lot, Webb said.
Located in the industrial district since 2003, Pro-Fab designs stainless steel equipment, conveyor systems and sinks for the food processing industry.
The company plans a 15,000-square-foot building and expects to add 20 jobs, according to information provided by the chamber. Calls to company president Dave Beavert weren't returned.
In comparison, two acres near Arvest Ballpark would sell for $200,000, said Dave Layman of Weichert Realtors-The Griffin Company. Layman also pointed out the comparisons aren't equal because the planned development on the parcels is different.
Chamber officials prefer potential buyers open with an offer for its industrial plots.
"But if they'd rather us quote a price, we ask them how many jobs they are going to add, how much they are going to invest in their building," Webb said.
Some companies in the past five years have paid as little as $7,500 for their two acres based on their return investment in the city, Webb said.
Whitbeck said the lower price of land allowed his company to build a nicer building. The space doubled to nearly 7,600 square feet, with room on the lot to expand another 2,500 square feet.
Each of his laboratories — serology, microbiology and chemistry, and one for DNA testing — operate on their own air control systems to keep contamination from other areas.
He pointed out several fixtures for bringing natural light into the offices and labs, something lacking in the previous space.
"Most labs are dark, with no windows," he said.
Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.