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The El Dorado Promise

By Stacy Randle

El Dorado High SchoolNicknamed Arkansas' original boomtown, El Dorado (pronounced el d'-RAY-do) is best known as the heart of the 1920's oil boom in south Arkansas. It is also the headquarters of Murphy Oil Corporation, which is putting El Dorado on the map for yet another reason. . .the El Dorado Promise.

In January 2007, Murphy Oil Corporation announced the establishment of the El Dorado Promise, a unique scholarship program in which they were allocating $50 million in scholarship money for potentially every graduate of El Dorado High School (EHS). The funds are not awarded to students based on scholastics or need. The only requirement is that a student must reside, and have attended school, in the El Dorado Public School District since at least the ninth grade.

The scholarship amount is determined by the length of attendance in the city's school system – graduates who have attended all 13 years receive 100 percent of the scholarship, which is the maximum level resident tuition payable at an Arkansas public university. A graduate who attended ninth through twelfth grade receives 65 percent of the scholarship. The funds can be used at any accredited two- or four-year college or university in the United States. The only other stipulation? The student must maintain a 2.0 GPA while taking a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester.

Over the past five years, the El Dorado Promise has provided over $8.5 million in funding to 997 EHS graduates attending 57 colleges and universities, according to Murphy CEO David Wood. Their statistics show that 90 percent of last year's Promise-eligible class has gone on to attend college, dropout and graduation rates have improved significantly, and the district has seen many more students enrolling in college-level Advanced Placement (AP) courses (and doing really well on their AP exams).

The positive impact of the Promise is felt throughout El Dorado. The city's citizens passed a 2007 millage for a new $43 million state-of-the art high school, which was completed in August, as well as a one-cent sales tax to help fund a new conference center and for further economic development. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Henry Florsheim said, "Creating a skilled workforce is one of the community's most important tasks. The Promise is giving our citizens opportunities they wouldn't have had otherwise."

Industrial might on the Mississippi River

By Mike Randle

Part of the Nucor-Yamato steel plant in Blytheville, Ark. Travel east of Blytheville in Mississippi County, Ark., to the Mississippi River and you can see for yourself one of the largest heavy manufacturing clusters in the South. Mississippi County is home to Nucor-Yamato Steel, which accounts for approximately 2 percent of Arkansas' entire annual gross domestic product. In fact, Mississippi County, Ark., is the second largest steel-producing county in North America.

Suppliers to Nucor surround the massive steel-making complex, which features two rolling facilities commonly referred to as Mill 1 and Mill 2. Both mills produce structural steel such as large beams used in the construction of bridges and buildings.

To keep the mills operating efficiently, scrap metal – mostly from the Rust Belt – is shipped in by rail and barge via the nearby Mississippi River. The complex melts 30 to 50 rail loads of scrap per day and three to five barges of scrap per week.

Northwest Arkansas targets college dropouts

By Lee Burlett

In the summer quarter, the Northwest Arkansas Council joined with five Northwest Arkansas higher education institutions to launch a Web site to help college dropouts find programs to finish their degrees. streamlines the research needed for a student to choose one of the five participating schools: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences-Northwest. The initiative will assist the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA's efforts at increasing the number of college degrees and technical certificates. The area is home to Tyson Foods' and Wal-Mart's world headquarters.

Paragould: A shining example of a transitioned Southern economy

By Mike Randle

Mike Randle, editor and publisher of SB&D with Sue McGowan, CEO and director of economic development for the Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce at her office in the wonderfully restored old court house in Greene County, Ark. In the late 1940s, many Southern states realized that agribusiness could not sustain their economies. The first state-sponsored economic development program was launched in 1947 in the South called the Balance Agriculture with Industry Act. Paragould, Ark., followed suit and began recruiting industry to the community in the 1950s.

Today manufacturing flourishes in Paragould/Greene County. The first success the county saw in industry recruitment was landing Emerson Electric in the mid-1950s. Now called Nidec, the company still has an operation in Paragould. Following Emerson was L.A. Darling & Monroe Auto (now Tenneco). Tenneco is currently the No. 1 employer in the county with over 1,300 employees.

Other manufacturers came, such as Anchor Packaging and American Railcar, solidifying the Paragould industrial base. It's clear that Paragould/Greene County has been successful in recruiting industry, but the retention and expansion of those industries – so important throughout Arkansas – have proven the commitment of the community to provide the workforce and quality of life for success and growth.

If manufacturing is the rage, Russellville, Ark., is set

By Lee Burlett

The Arkansas River Valley Region, which incorporates Pope and Yell counties, is growing faster than the national average and also has a lower median age. Located west of Little Rock along Interstate 40, the region's geography is striking. Surrounded by three state parks, a U.S. National Wildlife Preserve and located between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains and directly on the Arkansas River, this place has a thriving tourism industry.

But don't let the scenery fool you. This is manufacturing country and if manufacturing is the rage in part as a result of reshoring, Russellville, Ark., is set. There are divisions of 12 Fortune 500 manufacturers in the River Valley region, including Dow Chemical, IP, Baker Hughes, Proctor & Gamble, Tyson Foods and ConAgra.

In September, ConAgra announced the largest investment in the Arkansas River Valley region in 40 years when it decided to invest $100 million in its Russellville facility. The expansion is a result of a recent acquisition of the Bertolli and P.F. Chang's Home Menu frozen meal business. It should be noted that ConAgra Foods has operated in Russellville since 1964, another testament about Arkansas' incredible talent at business retention and expansion.

There are almost 50 manufacturers employing over 8,000 people in the Arkansas River Valley Region anchored by the town of Russellville. Russellville has a population of just 28,000.

Some serious precision in Camden, Ark.

By Mike Randle

Norm MacNeill, Executive Director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development, during a luncheon for existing defense companies at the privately-owned, 16,000-acre Highland Industrial Park near Camden, Ark. There's a little known – to the general populace, anyway – yet incredibly strong defense cluster in Camden, Ark. Call it a mini-Huntsville, Ala., which is home to more rocket scientists per capita than any place in the world.

In Camden, rocket scientists work on sophisticated systems at one of the largest industrial parks in the nation – the privately-owned, 16,000-acre Highland Industrial Park. There are over 1,000 buildings containing over 5.5 million square feet of space for manufacturing, testing and warehousing at the park, which was formerly a U.S. Navy base for the production of munitions. The site was operated by the Navy from 1944 to 1957.

Here, Lockheed Martin Missile & Fire Control, Aerojet, General Dynamics Armament & Technical Products and Raytheon Missile Systems, among others, work on some of the most precise manufacturing known on the planet. Missiles for military uses have been produced here for more than six decades.

"Working in a defense community like Camden, Ark., puts things into a different perspective," said Norm MacNeill, Executive Director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development. "Our workforce understands the real-time meaning of having mission-critical responsibilities. We have to do it right – precisely right, every time, because our war fighters and their families are counting on it. That's why defense contractors come to Camden – they know that our workforce gets it."

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