The best kept secret
Business View Magazine interviews Josh Agee, Mayor of Paragould, Arkansas for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Cities
A charmer of Northeast Arkansas, surrounded by the Delta plains, the City of Paragould’s picturesque landscape is full of fascinating variations caused by the nearby geographical anomaly, Crowley’s Ridge. With unique narrow rolling hills, lush forests, and bountiful lakes, Paragould is the ideal setting for a vibrant community rich in history and full of potential.
“Our population of 28,986 has doubled over the last 50 years,” reports Allison Hestand, Director of Economic Development and CEO of Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve never had a regression; we continue to grow. We’re always welcoming newcomers and have houses readily available. We have some of the state’s lowest utility rates, as well as plenty of jobs. We have two public school systems – the Greene County Tech School District and the Paragould School District – along with two private schools, as well as the Black River Technical College (BRTC) and Crowley’s Ridge College (CRC). People also enjoy Crowley’s Ridge State Park, which is just about 10 miles outside our city limits.”
Paragould is the county seat of Greene County, and the current Economic Development Corporation (EDC) office is housed in the historic old Greene County Courthouse. According to Mayor Josh Agee, “Since we own our utilities, we have plans to revitalize the space around the historic downtown power plant by adding a farmers’ market. We also have quite a few homes on the historic register down on Main Street. Take a stroll and you’ll soon realize history is very important here.” Paragould’s past has certainly shaped its future. While there haven’t been many mixed-use or residential buildings downtown previously, that’s quickly changing. Over the past year, downtown residential developments have more than doubled. “The revitalization of downtown started about 20 years ago,” says Agee. “It took a while to catch on, but in the last five years it’s really ramped up. You’re seeing this nationwide – the quality of life and downtown districts are important to retaining our workforce. We’ve put our money where our mouth is when it comes to our downtown.”
Creating a vibrant city center has paid off. The demand for buildings outweighs availability. Paragould is blessed with half a dozen prime downtown investors; once a building is available, one of them will snap it up much to the dismay of the others. This demand highlights the commitment of Paragould to preserve their historical culture. Agee admits he moved from his historic Main Street house into a downtown loft so his family could enjoy a lively city center, with events like the recent Saints & Sinners Motorcycle Club’s Angel Run that raised $25,000 dollars for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Downtown businesses ranging from the First National Bank’s headquarters to the newly opened, Something Pawsitive cat café, add growth opportunities for the area.
Supporting local businesses is a necessity for the community. “The Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce just kicked off a new series of small business roundtables to assist small businesses,” Hestand states. “The EDC, Paragould City Hall, and the Chamber always have their doors open to anyone with ideas. In fact, the EDC has been on the hunt for an innovation center to create an entrepreneurial eco-system in our community.” This entrepreneurship system could encompass many different things, but the city wants businesses owners to know they aren’t alone. Newer downtown retailers all have been small businesses and together they form a solid district full of possibility.
The city’s economy is also strengthened by the local railroad and transportation sectors. Agee explains, “The city was built by the railroad industry, with its name coming from the surnames of two major railroad tycoons. J.W Paramore and Jay Gould disagreed over who should name the city, so they combined their names. Our city has really taken the railroad history and run with it. Our Main Street office is an old caboose. We also have The Greenbrier Companies (GBX), which produce rail cars along with Corbitt Manufacturing, also a Greenbrier Company. There’s even AXIS which manufactures one-third of all the train car axles in the world.”
Paragould’s industrial sector is more than transportation. Hestand notes, “We have several manufacturing industries that have continued to grow with our workforce. We recently had Anchor Packaging Inc. announce a 90,000-square-foot facility expansion investing $21.5 million dollars into our community. They’re creating 45 new jobs and they’ve never had a lay off in the history of Greene County. This is their second expansion since choosing our community.” Other vital companies include NEA Regional Solid Waste Management, Nunn’s Construction, Paragould Light, Water, and Cable (PLWC), and Traeger Grills. The EDC doesn’t plan for the growth to stop there. Along with the two industry-filled spec buildings, it also owns a 78-acre certified McCallum Sweeney site – now shovel-ready and equipped with utilities waiting for Paragould’s next big industry.
Whatever that industry may be, it will require a dedicated and skilled workforce. In that regard, the community worked together to create an industrial training center. The Greene County Industrial Training Consortium (GCITC) is on the Black River Technical College campus and trains on welding, AutoCAD, industrial maintenance… everything an industry requires. Hestand shares, “We have monthly meetings where they ask our industries, ‘what do you need?’ Anything that’s needed the GCITC will put it together and get a class going. They continue to evolve, meet any workforce demands, and it’s been a huge selling point for our community. The last year has been a challenge, especially getting the unemployed back to work post-pandemic. It’s a national issue, but we’ve got an upcoming job fair and we’re also advertising ourselves outside of our community so we can continue to grow.”
Paragould also grows through its key city projects. Recently, PLWC broke ground on the New Paragould Light, Water, and Cable Solar Power Plant. A joint venture along with the EDC, the 1.5-megawatt solar plant will power over 200 homes. There’s also a $10-million-dollar sewer project reinforcing all of the downtown sewer lines. Agee confirms, “There are always infrastructure projects going on because people here have the attitude, ‘put your boots on and get it done.’ In the early 1990s, we went to the Arkansas Supreme Court because we didn’t want subpar cable, we wanted to supply our own. Since then, we’ve done it ourselves through PLWC. It has steady leadership, and it plans for tomorrow.”
For example, by the end of the summer, PLWC will have installed fiber internet into every Paragould home and business, ahead of schedule and under budget. During the pandemic, the city parks were even equipped with free Wi-Fi so students without internet access could safely do their schoolwork. Agee maintains, “Having control over the city infrastructure and owning our own utilities have been vitally important to our growth and sustainability.”
Paragould also hosts a not-for-profit, community hospital, Arkansas Methodist Medical Center. AMMC is devoted to caring for the city, as well as being a big local employer. Community safety is also extremely important; recently $4.7-million-dollars were invested into the brand-new #1 Fire Station. Other investments are being made into the local park system. Bids are being accepted for a four-mile, ten-foot-wide walking trail that will connect three of the community’s parks with the downtown, and several local schools. This is in addition to the state-of-the art Paragould Community Center and Aquatic Center. It houses an outdoor waterpark, an indoor aquatic center, basketball and racquetball courts, a walking track, and a bike track is in the works. Reynolds Park even has a 33-acre lake ideal for fishing and feeding the geese. Growth in all aspects is encouraged to move Paragould’s future in a positive direction.
Looking ahead three to five years Agee predicts, “We’ll see more retail trade, definitely more restaurant and retail growth. We have some places in the developmental stages, so retail is something we’d like to tackle. Also, quality of life; to ensure our industries are kept vibrant and healthy. Workforce development will always be something we’re pushing towards.” Hestand adds, “Downtown revitalization goes hand-in-hand with this proactive approach. If we people want to live, work, and play here, then we have to be committed to those three things. We have great jobs, great industrial growth, great housing availability, but we have to work on that ‘play here’ feature and give people a reason to stay. We want them to realize right now why Paragould is the best kept secret in northeast Arkansas.”
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NEA Regional Solid Waste Management – www.nealandfill.com
Serving Northeast Arkansas since 1993.
Here at NEA Regional, we’ve been providing solid waste management services for 28 years and have seen a lot of change and improvement in the industry! Waste management and landfill services are heavily regulated by the department of ADEQ, and EPA – we take those guidelines seriously and adhere to a model of professionalism and efficiency.
Basic rules apply for recycling: All recyclables must be cleaned and lids removed and all newspaper and cardboard bundled separately for processing. Plastic bottles must have the recycling symbol #1 or #2 on the bottom. White, yellow, blue, or gray plastic bags are acceptable. If your recyclables won’t fit in the large recycling containers, please bring them to the recycling center. For items that can’t be recycled, you may require landfill services. NEA Regional Solid Waste accepts all materials for the landfill, excluding hazardous waste or grass clippings.
Conveniently located at 1810 Greene Rd 890, we service all of Greene, Clay, Randolph, & Lawrence County. Along with our landfill and recycling services, we also strive to educate in regard to waste management and environmental factors.
*NEA Regional Solid Waste Management is proud to provide exceptional recycling and landfill services to the City of Paragould and the all the towns within our four counties!
Anchor Packaging LLC – www.anchorpac.com/careers
Anchor Packaging is a leader in the design and production of award-winning packaging solutions used internationally by restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores. Our products serve the growing demand for foodservice takeout, curbside pickup, and home delivery. Anchor Packaging has been a proud member of the Northeast Arkansas community for over 35 years.
Learn more about joining our team at Anchorpac.com/careers.
PLWC – paragould.com
The city of Paragould is the crossroads of Northeast Arkansas, and PLWC is the progressive municipality which provides its reliable electric, water, wastewater, broadband, and IPTV services. PLWC’s customers are friends and neighbors, and this shapes its mission of one team with one goal… Customer Service.