BCEDC approves agreement for LaSalle Corrections to pay $460,000 over 12 years, + broadband discussed

WARREN, Ark. – Bradley County Economic Development Corp. approved an agreement with LaSalle Corrections Monday night in regard to the former proposal for a Southeast Arkansas Regional Jail.

State Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, who is a BCEDC board member, was involved in negotiations along with Mayor Denisa Pennington and the BCEDC Executive Committee.

By Tim Kessler
By Tim Kessler

Saline River Chronicle Freelance Contributor

When the project first began, LaSalle was scheduled to construct and operate a jail that would house prisoners from Bradley and Drew counties, plus state and federal prisoners. BCEDC and the city of Warren agreed to a land swap of 20 acres in the Warren Industrial Park and 20 acres on the Griggs Property, with the prison/jail to be built on the Industrial Park site.

That site also held a large spec building. LaSalle decided that building was not needed for the jail, so it arranged to have it torn down and retained salvage rights to it.

However, LaSalle later said the jail project was economically unfeasible because of rising construction costs. There are indications that the jail might still be built, possibly in Drew County. It is unknown if Bradley County prisoners would still be involved in being housed should such a facility be built.

In the agreement approved unanimously by board members Monday, LaSalle agreed to pay BCEDC $460,000 under a 12-year agreement, with payments of $38,331 per year. If LaSalle employs any workers in Bradley County during that time, the payments would be reduced by $391.50 for up to 78 employees. The number of employees that were originally anticipated to be hired for the jail and the original agreement was for 15 years.

Wardlaw noted that BCEDC had two prospects who were seeking property but because the deal with LaSalle hadn’t been finalized, not enough land was available for them to consider. He also said the biggest problem industrial prospects face in this area is electrical needs.

Another project mentioned during the meeting was the poultry plant that was originally planned by J&E Foods. That company has apparently pulled out of the deal, with Arkansas Development Finance Authority taking over the building to satisfy a $100,000 loan it had made to the company. Still in limbo is $50,000 that was channeled from the city of Warren through BCEDC for another loan. That loan is shown on the BCEDC financial statements each month as both a liability and an asset.

Wardlaw said an announcement on a new partner on the poultry plant operation should be made within 90 days.

In other action:

  • Lou McAlister of Broadband Strategies of Bentonville explained his company’s work in bringing broadband services to the entire state of Arkansas.

He said the Arkansas General Assembly had looked at the oversight of broadband services and his company started work in October 2021. A map is being developed that will use U.S. Census data to show where broadband services are available and areas that still need to be covered.

McAlister’s company is in the final stages of making recommendations to the state which may qualify for up to $1.7 billion in federal funds.

Wardlaw said $100 million in federal CARES Act funds had already been used to expand broadband in the state, including Bradley County with SATCO and Vyve Broadband receiving individual grants.

McAlister said surveys were done and 60 percent of the respondents said they felt affordable Internet services should be $25-$50 per month. He said it would take several years to complete the project but the goal is to make broadband services available to the whole state within three years.

“With fiber optic cable, there’s no limit on how fast you can go,” he said in regard to Internet speeds. “If we do this right, we could put Arkansas in the top 10 for affordability, accessibility and speed.”

  • Accountant Bob Milton gave the financial report, showing $108,000 was available in BCEDC bank accounts. He said the organization has a net worth of $890,000. There were $750 in revenues for the month and $917 in expenses, adding up to a $1,098 loss for the year.
  • Board Chairman Dr. Bob Smalling said a cleaning service had treated the BCEDC building’s floors. A motion was approved to amend the budget to include $1,260 for annual services.
  • Southeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority board member John Lipton, who is also a BCEDC board member, said the Intermodal still had an agreement pending with a company which would involve at least 100 acres of the property. “We need to be sure of finishing I-530 to the Intermodal,” he said, which would involve about 11 ½ miles of highway work.
  • Leases with Sorrells Lumber Co. and Scott Richardson are awaiting final surveys.
  • Entergy Corp. officials will attend the next board meeting to explain a grant program under which industrial property can be certified on the Entergy website.

Top photo: Lou McAlister of Broadband Strategies explained his company’s services to Bradley County Economic Development Corp. board members Monday. Shown, from left, are board members Keith Chambers and Carlton Davis, accountant Bob Milton, Cathy and Lou McAlister. Photo by Tim Kessler.

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