With its rank as among the highest of steel producing areas nationwide, Blytheville is bustling with industrial activity. The steel industry arrived on the local scene in the late 1980s, drawn to the area’s centralized location and unique transportation infrastructure, which includes the Mississippi River. Today, the industry is responsible for some 5,000 of the area’s manufacturing jobs, and since steel is produced from scrap metal shipped via the river to local plants, Blytheville is home to the largest recyclers in the world. Nucor Steel owns several mills, led by Nucor-Yamato and Nucor Steel Arkansas.
Just south of Blytheville is the newest steel manufacturer, Big River Steel. Using the most innovative technology in the industry, the variety of steel products produced in the area range from I-beams to steel coils to structural tubing, with product lines continually expanding. It is no surprise that steel has found a home in Blytheville – the industrial area is uniquely situated, with its location just off Interstate 55, a primary U.S. north-to-south roadway, and its ready access to the Mississippi River, an active vein of barge travel. The nearby Arkansas Aeroplex makes the area even more attractive for industrial transportation – its 11,000-foot runway can accommodate aircraft of all sizes. Manufacturers choose the area because of an impressive list of amenities. Most important is the highly strategic location – Blytheville is within 500 miles of 40 percent of U.S. buying power and is at the center point between Canada and Mexico. Its ideal proximity to Memphis (an hour by car) allows residents and businesses to benefit from all that a large city has to offer without having to deal with the daily frustrations of city life. And cities such as St. Louis (200 miles away) and Little Rock (189 miles away) are easily managed day trips.
The steel story is more than just an industrial success story. It is also the story of the rich Arkansas Delta history and the resilience of a people who refuse to be defeated.
The prime location near the Mississippi River and the unusually rich soil it produces resulted in the county’s long-time stock and trade, the cotton industry. Hundreds of workers in the area still are employed in the planting, harvesting, ginning, buying/selling and shipping of one the world’s most essential products, but modern technology – from irrigation systems to state-of-the-art implements – has drastically changed the dynamics of the cotton business in Mississippi County, which remains home to the largest cotton gin in the world, which is located just west of the Blytheville. The strong work ethic of agricultural professionals turned out to be key to steel executives – when they arrived in Blytheville, they found a ready-made workforce of people accustomed to early mornings and unyielding physical labor. Delta farmers with Delta resilience.
Those same principles have carried Blytheville beyond cotton and steel. Other companies are diverse and the products they produce are assorted. From high-end electrical tools, to greeting cards, to automotive components, to margarine products – it is all part of everyday work in Mississippi County. For instance, among the newest to the industrial landscape is Aviation Repair Technologies, one of the nation’s leading aircraft restructuring companies. Taking advantage of the facilities at the Arkansas Aeroplex, developed on the grounds of the former Eaker Air Force Base and including an 11,600 ft. runway, ART repairs any and every part of large aircraft. Malfunctioning coffeemakers, seats in need of reupholstering, jet engines requiring rebuild – none of these are a challenge to ART.
An industry, based on the steel commitment, has spawned unique business. The retail sector, though it has struggled with the economics of the Delta, features leading chains such as a Wal Mart Supercenter and 96,000-square-foot Lowe’s, along with a number of independent businesses and boutiques.
The historic Main Street corridor takes on a charm all its own with its captivating architecture, serpentine street design and abundant flower-filled planters. Apparel, cards and gifts, hand-poured candles, home furnishings, and home décor accessories and unusual antiques are a few of the shopping options. And Main Street was once home to the nationally acclaimed That Bookstore in Blytheville. Packed with 25,000 titles, this landmark, still preserved today, was a frequent stop on book tours, attracting best-selling authors like Sandra Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Pat Conroy, Mary Higgins Clark, Senator Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton; and it was a regular stop for world-renowned John Grisham.
On the National Historic Registry, downtown Blytheville continues to evolve as property owners preserve history and develop unique merchandising ideas. In fact, entire Blytheville area is filled with an assortment of specialty businesses, as well as familiar chain store establishments.
Progress is important to Blytheville, particularly in an era when rural America is suffering population decline while urban trends are growing. The area’s pro-business attitude starts with government and is further supported by a multitude of organizations that work together to aggressively pursue growth and progress. Two city governments, a county economic development team, and the Chamber of Commerce work to make it easy for business to locate in the Blytheville-Gosnell area and take advantage of the incentives that will lead to greater prosperity. As that commerce develops, both businesses and residents are served by a comprehensive list of professionals. To assist in filling workforce needs, for instance, the community features three leading employment services, each staffed by specialists in industrial and professional placement. Major banks, led by long-established Farmers Bank & Trust and Southern Bancorp, offer up-to-date financial services and lending capabilities and the area is served by a comprehensive list of attorneys, accountants and professional consultants.
With steel as its foundation, the great location, great workforce potential, rich history and one of the lowest overall per capita tax burdens in the entire country – all this makes Blytheville a terrific place to do business, and local people have committed themselves to forging new and lasting partnerships with business and industry. In 2003, the county created an innovative publicly-funded program to create highly competitive incentives for industrial and commercial growth. This program provides funding to incoming industry or expanding existing industry that can be used for almost any tangible aspect of growth, from the purchase of land and buildings to the construction of new infrastructure. This exceptional commitment is the best example of the spirit in the Blytheville area: This truly is a population of residents who are absolutely focused on growth and progress.
One final point – steel or no steel – the charm of small-town living is brings a unique warmth and hospitality to the Blytheville area. While pro-business leadership and plenty of space opens the doors for a variety of industries, professional services and retail businesses alike, and wherever you go, you will find people who know the meaning of success, and where success is always accompanied by a smile and a friendly greeting.