Regional approach sets table for economic growth
Conway, Maumelle, and Morrilton are textbook cases for economic development.
Although they have a healthy sense of competition, the cities benefit from each other in a “one-for-all, all-for-one” mentality to create a strong regional draw.
Jamie Gates, executive vice president for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation, said it’s a relationship that benefits all three.
“When we’re working on attracting people to the region – Maumelle, Morrilton, and Conway – they all have different strengths. We complement each other well,” he said.
With a population of more than 65,000, Conway is the largest of the three cities. Known as the City of Colleges, it’s home to the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College, and Central Baptist College.
Students from Conway, Maumelle, and Morrilton are among thousands who walk the campuses.
Conway also has two hospitals: Conway Regional Medical Center, established in 1921, and Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway, which opened in 2016. Conway Regional in December announced a $40 million building project to start in 2019. Those entities alone pack a big economic punch.
Office Building at The Village at Hendrix
The Meadows and Office Technology Park, described by Chamber president Brad Lacy as “our sweet spot in the economic-development world,” is home to top-tier companies. Those include DXC and Insight – both Fortune 500 technology companies – and Crafton Tull, an engineering, architecture, and surveying firm. Conway is home to internationally known data company Acxiom; home-grown Nabholz Corp., a national, multi-service contractor; and many others.
A buzz has been building for years about Central Landing, a 150-acre, mixed-use development on the site of Conway’s former airport. The first project is underway – construction of a luxury apartments complex on 18.7 acres of the property, a $70 million investment.
Conway is already considered a shopping mecca for many in the region, with its mixture of big-box stores and locally owned boutiques. Lewis Crossing and Conway Commons shopping centers are booming.
Economic development isn’t just brick and mortar; city leaders talk about quality of place. For example, visitors come to Conway during the holidays to see the 54-foot lighted Christmas tree in downtown, take a carriage ride, and eat a meal. In the summer, they enjoy the new splash pad in Laurel Park or partake in the state’s only Shakespeare festival, which makes UCA its home.
Largest Employers in Conway, Maumelle, and Morrilton
Maumelle and Morrilton are making strides and strengthening the economic impact of the area, too.
Gates said the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton’s $15 million Workforce Training Center, which opened in April 2018, “is an incredible asset to employers from around the region.”
The biggest project in the college’s 55-year history, it offers technical training in a variety of areas. About half of UACCM’s 1,900-plus students commute from Faulkner County.
Morrilton also is known for the beauty of nearby Petit Jean Mountain, which attracts residents and visitors alike, and the University of Arkansas System’s Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, which sits atop the mountain and hosts educational summits and offers collaborative experiences.
Conway and Morrilton have the only two K-12 Catholic schools in Arkansas. Sacred Heart School in Morrilton made significant additions to its church and elementary school in the past year.
The South Conway County School District in Morrilton opened the $11.3 million Devil Dog arena in 2017.
Morrilton Mayor Allen Lipsmeyer pointed out that the top four employers in the city of 6,700 are longtime family-owned businesses: Green Bay Packaging-Arkansas Mill; Petit Jean Meats, the official meat of the Dallas Cowboys, no less; Koontz Electric; and Wayne Smith Trucking.
He said Conway’s and Maumelle’s success bolsters Morrilton’s value. “There are advantages to all three being strong,” Lipsmeyer said. “The bigger area we’ve got to pull a workforce from, the better that is. Regionalism is a big deal.”
Judy Keller, director of community and economic development for Maumelle, said the city’s residents work in Conway and vice versa.
“We do take a pretty big labor pool, including people from Conway, Vilonia, and Greenbrier – and we have people from Searcy and Russellville who drive here every day – so it’s extremely regional.”
Maumelle, population 17,163, is the newest of the three cities. The 5,000-acre planned community was developed in the 1970s as a “new hometown coming true” and was incorporated in 1985. Its residents are educated, too; right at half its population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Maumelle Industrial and Logistics Park
The city has two lakes, walking trails, an aquatic center, and a recently expanded library.
Keller said the city’s ever-expanding industrial park is “kind of amazing.” She ticked off the list of premier businesses: BEI Precision Systems & Space Co. Inc., Kimberly-Clark manufacturing facilities, Dillard’s distribution center, and Molex.
“When someone buys Huggies baby wipes anywhere in the world, they were made and packaged at Kimberly-Clark’s facility in Maumelle,” she said. “When someone orders from Dillard’s online, whether they’re in Japan or anywhere, it comes from Maumelle’s distribution center.
A new Interstate 40 interchange for a third entrance/exit to the city has been approved, and officials said that could be a launching pad for commercial development.
Keller said Maumelle is in the 12-county Metro Little Rock Alliance with Conway and Morrilton. The three cities shared a consultant for a day during a FAM, or familiarization, tour.
“From a workforce perspective, people have a choice of at least three different communities,” Gates said. “Someone coming from another part of the country may prefer living in one over the other. It always helps to give people choices. It’s good for us that they’re connected so conveniently with Interstate 40 and other infrastructure.”
Lipsmeyer agreed. He said that when Morrilton lands a company, its employees are more than likely going to live in Conway.
However, the first of a three-phase subdivision in Morrilton is nearing completion.
The mayor said that although Morrilton doesn’t have a Target or Belk, “you can get in a car and be there in 15 minutes” at the Conway Commons shopping center. “It’s a draw for us to have that kind of retail close to us.”
Lipsmeyer said he has a unique perspective, because before he moved to Morrilton, he lived in Conway and was a member of the Conway City Council. He has an affinity for the city and built lasting relationships.
He said he talks to Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry regularly, and they’ve discussed ideas for partnerships.
The Conway Development Corporation has partnered in the past with the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Conway County Economic Development Corporation to work on mutually beneficial projects.
Keller said she doesn’t hesitate to call Gates or Lacy when she needs help with a project or has a question.
If a company is requesting information from Conway, Little Rock, Maumelle, and Morrilton, Keller said the cities work together and divide the responsibility of filling out pages of documents.
“If it’s a company coming to Arkansas, we all work on getting them here,” Keller said. “We use our resources to get them here.”
Keller said a division of Molex recently left Maumelle and relocated to Conway to start a design center in a state-of-the-art building. She wasn’t thrilled, but she wasn’t devastated, either.
“The state didn’t lose them; the region didn’t lose them,” she said.
If Maumelle couldn’t have the company, Keller said she was happy it was Conway the company chose. She would have felt the same about Morrilton. “We’re really just an extension of each other,” she said.