Ready to Work and Grow in the Mid-South

Mississippi County, AR
Written by Samita Sarkar

Mississippi County, Arkansas is unique in many ways. Located in the far eastern part of the state, it is named for the famous Mississippi River that runs along its eastern border, separating it from the State of Missouri. The county of approximately 45,000 residents is also the first ACT® Work Ready Community in its state, and is ready to grow its population.
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ACT is a non-profit organization on a mission to help people achieve success in their careers and academic life. By partnering with ACT as a Work Ready Community, counties, regions, and states highlight that they have an attractive workforce with the skills that businesses and industries are looking for. Communities are given WorkKeys® certification, showing that they have skills in workplace documents, applied math and graphic literacy – skills that are required for 77 percent of jobs, based on the ACT JobPro database.

“We have a workforce that is ready and willing to receive training. They are prepared to work in new industries,” says Tamika Jenkins, Project Coordinator and Website Administrator at the Mississippi County Economic Development Area.

ACT® Work Ready Communities are those that have successfully linked workforce development to education in relation to the economic development needs of their particular region. “It has put us on the map as being a community with a workforce ready to go to work. It also says our pipeline is connected from K to 12, to community college, to the workforce. The schools are constantly communicating and keeping up with the needs that the companies have in order to be able to fulfill them,” Jenkins adds.

Mississippi County has been an ACT® Work Ready Community since May 2017. To learn more about this initiative that is strengthening the American economy one community at a time, visit www.workreadycommunities.org.

“Our greatest industry is hard work,” is the slogan of Mississippi County. Never afraid of an honest day’s work, the county, founded in 1833, was built on agriculture. Major crops grown on the county’s rich and fertile soil include rice, soybeans, and cotton. According to www.mississippicountyar.org, over the last twenty years, the historic leader in agriculture has also grown into a steel stronghold. As a matter of fact, Mississippi County is now the largest steel producing county in the United States.

At the moment, the work-ready county is interested in increasing the number of homes, career opportunities, and residents. “We are working on a tactical plan for our county’s economic development to see how we can attract more families into the county. We would like to grow our population, which would in turn grow our workforce,” shares Jenkins.

Cutting through Mississippi County is Interstate 55 and multiple rail routes and river ports, as well as Arkansas International Airport in Blytheville. Blytheville holds one of Mississippi County’s two county seats, with the other being in Osceola. Osceola is right on the river’s edge of the meandering Mississippi.

The location is quite convenient for businesses. Last year, Calstrip Industries, a manufacturer and supplier of stainless steel products, announced an investment of $15 million into the construction of a 100,000-plus square-foot facility with planned expansions totaling more than 300,000 square feet. It is to be located near NuCor Steel Arkansas’ specialty cold mill complex near Blytheville. The facility will create 45 new jobs and broaden Nucor’s capabilities in the automotive sector. As stated in a press release on Trade & Industry Development, “the recently announced Galvanizing Line will bring 500,000 tons per year of ‘new coated’ capacity by early 2021.”

“We have a robust incentive package to attract new businesses,” says Jenkins. Based on the number of jobs and the level of wages being created, the Economic Development Area offers businesses competitive incentives that favor site selection within the county. Incentives can be used to purchase land and buildings, and to provide infrastructure.

Mississippi County is an interesting mix of rural and industrial. But though businesses, particularly in the agricultural or auto market, find that there is no better place to be, many of Mississippi County’s talented workers have chosen to live in neighboring counties. By studying traffic patterns, Mississippi County has discovered that in spite of its convenient location, many of its workers commute out of the county to homes that are over an hour away. “Our location is a blessing and a curse, because we are so close to Memphis and Jonesboro that some families would rather live in those areas. But living closer to your job does have its own benefits, especially with rising gas prices,” Jenkins points out.

To keep workers in the county and grow the population, the Mississippi County Economic Development Area is looking at a multi-faceted strategic plan to attract developers while bolstering the education system, fostering economic development, and improving health and wellness. Also called the Delta Bridge Project, Mississippi County’s strategic plan is a public-private partnership between local organizations and individuals to coordinate community and economic development efforts in the county. Local leaders work through a Steering Committee to help realize Mississippi County’s goals. The plan belongs to the community, and is a work-in-progress during this time of change for Mississippi County.

At present, the housing available in the county is primarily single-family residences, with some apartment complexes, historic homes, and even acreages. By encouraging developers, the county would like to improve housing mobility and provide more options to its workers who choose to live in more urban parts of Arkansas despite the longer commutes.

The Economic Development Area also works with six public school districts in the county, facilitating regular superintendents’ meetings with the community college (Arkansas Northeastern College), which in turn works closely with local industries to train incumbent workers. Additionally, there are a number of public research universities just outside the county.

To promote quality of life, Mississippi County has a robust caregiver network of volunteers to help each other during difficult times, a community youth softball and baseball team, and strong civic organizations. For families who enjoy quiet time in the great outdoors, Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Mallard Lake offer great opportunities to spend time in the fresh air and observe the beauty of nature. If you get lucky, you may even spot a beautiful bobcat or a rare armadillo! The Big Lake refuge is an expansive, 11,000-acre protected area of swamps and forestry, including old growth forests. Other, more common animals that take shelter in the area include river otter, beaver, raccoon, wild turkey, and deer.

Moreover, just outside county lines on the other side of the Mississippi River are three other wilderness areas: Chicasaw National Wildlife Refuge, Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, and Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. Meanwhile, the Hornersville Swamp Conservation Area is contiguous of Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge, just to its north, and is over 3,000 acres. Together, the Big Lake-Hornersville wilderness area spans state lines, and the Missouri Department of Conservation manages Hornersville Swamp Conservation Area.

Indeed, there are ample places for those who yearn to brave the wilderness to bask in its wholesome glory with their loved ones. “This is a great place to raise a family,” Jenkins remarks.

And, as www.mississippicountyar.org points out, there’s nowhere like the county when it comes to cooking: “Whether it is catfish or barbecue, foods from grandma’s kitchen or fresh fruit and vegetables from northeast Arkansas farms, the people of Mississippi County know how to cook and love to share good home-style Southern cooking with family and friends.”

But the best thing that Mississippi County has to offer is its people. Through the help of ACT and the Delta Bridge Project, the county would like to continue to attract hardworking individuals and families who are ready to find a new place to call home.

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