DRA - Arkansas - Enviro Tech - Winter 2016

Finding an environment in the Arkansas Delta for growth

By Trisha Ostrowski

Enviro Tech chose the Delta region for its chemical manufacturing facility, pictured here, because it provides direct access to the Mississippi River, and for the dedicated workforce of Helena-West Helena, Ark.There are hundreds of small towns in the Mississippi River Delta region. One such town of about 12,000 is Helena-West Helena, Ark. Located deep in the Mississippi River Delta, the two cities were consolidated into one in 2006, and now it’s the county seat of Phillips County, Ark. The small municipality traces its roots to the founding of the port town of Helena shortly after steamboats began running up and down the Mississippi River in the early 1800s. It is located across the river from Tunica, Miss., connected by the Helena Bridge, one of Arkansas’ four Mississippi River bridges.


Like most Delta towns, Helena-West Helena has a rich history. The city, like many around it, has thrived as an agriculture center and became a mecca for blues music in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, helping introduce the African-American genre to people from Memphis to Chicago. Helena-West Helena is home to the Delta Cultural Center and the King Biscuit Blues Festival.


Like most areas in the Delta, Helena and Phillips County have faced their share of challenges over the years. In the 1970s, Mohawk Rubber shut down its Helena tire plant, affecting over 600 jobs. Unemployment subsequently spiked in the county. “When Mohawk closed, it had a devastating impact on the communities in the county,” said John Edwards, Economic Development Director of the Helena Harbor-Phillips County Port Authority, the economic development agency for the county. “In fact, some people here say that the area’s economy was negatively affected for decades as a result of Mohawk’s closure.” But Helena, like most Delta towns, was resilient.


Helena Harbor: A one-of-a-kind riverfront industrial site

One challenge Helena doesn’t face is available land for prospective industry. It is home to Helena Harbor, a small port on the Mississippi River and an adjoining 4,000-acre industrial park featuring a 9-foot-deep slack-water harbor. The uniquely large, flood-protected industrial site caught the attention of California businessman Mike Harvey. Harvey is CEO of Enviro Tech, a California-based manufacturer of biodegradable disinfectants for the food industry.


With 4,000 acres and a slack harbor port on the Mississippi River, leaders in Phillips County marketed the Helena Harbor to mega projects such as steel and automotive plants. That strategy didn’t work, as the site remained almost completely vacant for more than two decades.


When Edwards became the economic developer in Phillips County, one of his first prospects was Harvey. Knowing that Helena didn’t have the labor shed to support a large single project at the Helena Harbor, Edwards began focusing on smaller prospects, like Harvey and Enviro Tech. “I’d rather have ten 100-employee companies at Helena Harbor than one with 1,000 employees,” Edwards said.


Within one year of opening a facility in Phillips County, Harvey and Enviro Tech had outgrown it, and were drawn to keep operations close when they looked to expand. The initial appeal of access not only to raw materials but transportation and infrastructure was not the only reason Harvey decided to expand at Helena Harbor. In Phillips County, Enviro Tech found a quality and skilled workforce upon which they could rely. Harvey said the company is “driven by technology, but powered by our people.”


The new facility nearly doubled the company’s personnel to about 80, while providing access to a large number of infrastructure and cost benefits.


Enviro Tech has earned 14 EPA “parent” registrations and their R&D team holds 25 U.S. patents. The company originally located manufacturing in Arkansas for a number of reasons, but they all boiled down to one word: Access.


“The area provided a clear logistics advantage for raw materials sourcing and finished goods sales to customers,” said Enviro Tech Business Manager Brent Bankosky. “Arkansas has been great for recruitment, in addition to the many benefits of working with Delta Regional Authority. The area has an available and capable workforce, rail, barge and highway access, and strong community support.”


Working together to improve lives.

The success of Enviro Tech in Arkansas is exactly what Delta Regional Authority is working toward. “Economic development projects that place an emphasis on public-private partnerships, like this expansion of Enviro Tech, are the key to creating jobs and building communities throughout the Delta,” said DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill. For DRA, the bottom line is “creating jobs, building communities and improving lives.”


In the case of Enviro Tech, DRA has been able to provide grant administration and other support to help them expand operations in Helena. The company, founded in 1991, manufactures and distributes specialty chemicals for a variety of products that provide superior performance and are environmentally friendly.


Company leadership couldn’t be happier

“The business climate in Arkansas — particularly in Helena-West Helena and Phillips County — has proven to be the easiest, most welcoming, and accommodating of any we have experienced,” said Enviro Tech CEO Mike Harvey. “We cannot recommend it more highly for future new businesses as a viable place to do business.”


There were other factors in Harvey choosing Helena-West Helena. “The Harvey family wanted a central location and they did not want to worry about water availability,” said Edwards. “In Phillips County, we probably have the most plentiful water of any county in America. On both coasts you are seeing water shortages. Arkansas is an extremely water-rich state It was attractive to them. And, we have very affordable land. Those two things were attractive to Harvey and Enviro Tech.”


Collaboration and Opportunity

For DRA, “improving lives” is more than just fostering a pro-business climate. Through the States’ Economic Development Assistance Program, they are helping to improve transportation and infrastructure, as well as workforce development and education. DRA seeks to fund projects that create jobs, grow leaders and entrepreneurs, and increase access to quality health care.


In 2015, DRA announced it, along with partners, would be investing $108 million in federal, state and local resources to support economic development, entrepreneurship, workforce training and job creation in Arkansas.


Dave Geraci of Genesee & Wyoming Railroad spoke at the ceremony celebrating the return of rail service to Phillips County, Ark., and Helena Harbor. ​One of those investments was to help bring rail service back to Phillips County and the Helena Harbor site. “When I first started as the economic developer here, I was working to get rail service restored to the county,” Edwards said. “I can’t say enough about the Delta Regional Authority on this: the DRA was the first party that came to the table to help us get rail service restored. It took about $900,000 to get rail service back and DRA put up $150,000. When they made that first move, all of the parties — Gov. Hutchinson and his staff, the Harbor board and others — came together and made it happen. Rail service was restored not just to the Helena Harbor site but for all of Phillips County,” Edwards explained.


So, for the first time, the 4,000-acre Helena Harbor site now has all utilities and infrastructure in place, including natural gas, rail and broadband service.


Yet, even with a fully served 4,000-acre site to sell, Edwards is realistic when it comes to attracting industry to Phillips County and Helena-West Helena. “Today we see ourselves as a place that fits 20- to 100-employee companies. Our labor force can support those type companies. We had a prospect recently that would have employed hundreds. It would be hard for a county like ours to reach those employee counts. We feel like our credibility is everything, so we didn’t feel like we could accommodate a project that large,” Edwards said.


As for Enviro Tech, they are hoping to ramp up to 120 employees in the near future and Helena-West Helena, Phillips County and the Delta Regional Authority couldn’t be more enthusiastic. In fact, over 300 people attended the opening of the new Enviro Tech facility. “The DRA is excited to announce another year of investing into the people, small businesses, and infrastructure that make the Arkansas Delta a great place to create jobs, grow business and raise a family,” Chairman Masingill said.


For people in communities like Phillips County, this kind of investment is about more than money — it is an investment in a better life. 

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