A growing, diversified business landscape is in the forecast for Texarkana, according to key stakeholders involved in shaping the Twin Cities' future.
In recent interviews, Kenny Haskin, Arkansas-side city manager; David Orr, Texas-side director of planning; and Rob Sitterley, CEO of vanguard economic development organization AR-TX REDI, agreed that the Texarkana region's unique set of assets and advantages poises it for unprecedented success.
Texarkana's location, resources, transportation infrastructure, history and available workforce will prove especially attractive to three business sectors, Sitterley said: manufacturing, defense and logistics/distribution.
"Ultimately, our goal is to diversify the economy. In 10 or 20 years, I would see that this community would be home to a number of large manufacturing operations, would be home to a number of logistics/distribution companies. We are just in a prime spot in the country," Sitterley said.
A large auto manufacturing operation is a real possibility for Texarkana, he said.
"If you look on the map, all the major auto plants and auto-making parts producers are basically Memphis to San Antonio, and that vein runs literally right through here.
"So I don't see any reason in 20 years we couldn't be just a giant in manufacturing and a place where people want to go because it's close to their customers, the product can get in and out quickly, and again it all comes down to workforce," Sitterley said. A major car maker investing $750 million to $1 billion here and employing 2,000 people, for example, is not too much to hope for.
"There's no reason we can't play on that field. There just isn't," he said. "All those things are doable here, and I think for a lot of years there were people that maybe didn't dream as big or didn't think that it was possible here. But for sure, I see that it's possible."
Orr echoed the importance of a job-ready workforce, calling Texarkana's colleges and universities economic "game-changers."
"We continue to work with our educational centers to develop the workforce needed by employers. Our community continues to cultivate new business people and an environment that supports entrepreneurship.
"Our location and history make transportation-related employers and timber-related employers likely to continue to be a part of the community for many years. Growth should come from promoting our existing businesses, encouraging growth of technology-dependent ideas originating at our higher education institutions," Orr said.
Orr touted the city's recent efforts in the economic development sphere.
"The city continues to dedicate funding for use for economic development projects as defined in policy established by City Council. That funding has aided in the retention of jobs and in the creation of new jobs.
"A few examples: Since establishing the tax increment reinvestment zones, the City has seen over $85.7 million — according to the Bowie Central Appraisal District — in new development and investment in the TIRZ 1 area.
"The city has been a leader in the efforts to maintain and grow the defense industry. The city made a commitment for incentives for Texarkana Aluminum located in Nash. In addition, city staff participates in regional and national efforts to attract new employers to the community," Orr said.
A tax increment reinvestment zone captures property taxes collected in a designated area and earmarks that revenue for infrastructure improvements there.
The Arkansas side, too, is investing in economic development, with $229,000 set aside for that purpose in the most recent city budget.
"I do see the Arkansas side growing," Haskin said. "I know it's incremental, but over a 15- to 20-year period, you will see the progress that's being made."
Haskin, too, sees Texarkana as a hub of interstate commerce.
"Rail services, air services, nearby water access, trucking industry distribution centers, available utilities, a strong workforce and great natural resources all make Texarkana, Arkansas, a great place for companies to locate.
"The State of Arkansas recently put in place regulations which afford new retail businesses the same incentives as those allowed industrial entities, giving the city more opportunities to attract retail businesses, as well," Haskin said.
In the short term, Haskin sees the city adding a grocery store and attracting more residents because of low property taxes. In partnership with AR-TX REDI, a search is ongoing for large tracts of land available for industrial use.
"New industry affords our area with opportunities for employment, residential growth and retail expansion. Our responsibility, beyond providing an industrial area, is to make our city and the opportunities provided here the most attractive they can be," Haskin said.
"We feel like that we have a recipe that will be attractive to people wanting to come live, work and play on the Texarkana, Arkansas, side for sure."