Along with the annual swearing in of Justices, the Independence County Quorum Court re-established its Economic Development Commission Monday night and named Zach Harber the chairman of the commission.
The move comes after Ash Flat in Sharp County landed a $35 million deal with Emerson manufacturing in October. The deal is projected to create approximately 245 new jobs within four years.
The move also comes as a stinging-rebuke to Crystal Johnson, chairman and CEO of the Batesville Chamber of Commerce, who has served as the point-of-contact for businesses and industries looking for an area to set up shop.
Johnson will now be “community editor.” Zach Harber, director of Career and Technical Education with the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville will serve as the chairman of the committee and Independence County Judge Robert Griffin will serve as the property manager for the committee.
“We’ll be having public meetings each month, prior to the scheduled quorum court meeting,” Griffin said.
Another part of the story is money.
The subscription to the labor-market data program Economic Modeling Specialists International (ESMI) costs the county $7,125 annually.
In remarks she had prepared to present at the quorum court, which she emailed to Griffin, Johnson wrote:
“EMSI provides economic modeling data including industry, occupation, and education specific data. The data is sourced from mandated reports to the U.S. Census bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics and is updated in real-time. The program allows us to pull traditional labor market information that is designed to help us understand the structure of our economy and identify trends in jobs and wages. In addition, this is the only tool we have to respond to RFI’s. We also use EMSI to analyze economic opportunities for the region. We will need it more than ever this year as we develop a more relevant economic development strategy as we revise the IMPACT plan. I plan to engage the new members of the Independence County Economic Development Commission in the planning process.”
According to their website, EMSI is headquartered in Moscow, Idaho, with offices throughout the United States and Canada. It produces high-quality employment data and economic analysis via web tools and custom reports.
Harper is familiar with the data ESMI provides through his work at UACCB.
“There are other avenues you can utilize to get this information,” Harper said.
The information can be obtained from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock or the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. However, how fast the necessary information is produced can vary from a day up to a week. The attractiveness of the subscription is up-to-date information that is readily available.
Availability seemed to be the crux of the change in another way.
“RFIs, (Requests For Information) have a turnaround time of 24 hours,” Harper said.
Independence County Treasurer Paul Albert will serve as the treasurer for the commission and help determine if the ESMI subscription is still feasible for the county.
Tim Stewart will serve as secretary for the commission.
Harper said he was honored to be selected as chairman, but added that Johnson is a crucial stakeholder in moving forward.