'Game-changer:' Berryville to receive $1.5 million grant for economic development
By Scott Loftis
The city of Berryville’s economic development efforts got a major boost on Friday, when U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.5 million grant to the city.
The grant money will be used for infrastructure developments including street and drainage improvements and wastewater extensions to help establish a 160-acre industrial park on city-owned land located north of U.S. Highway 62 and east of Hailey Road just outside the city limits.
“This is really a game-changer for our economic development,” said Chris Claybaker, the city’s director of economic development.
The industrial park will be located in a federally designated “Opportunity Zone,” which will provide tax incentives for investors. According to a news release, it is expected to create or retain more than 400 jobs and spur more than $330 million in private investment.
Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney credited Claybaker, a former Camden mayor who was hired as Berryville’s economic development director in January 2015.
“We’re very pleased,” McKinney said. “This is why I hired Chris Claybaker, because we needed to get more aggressive on economic development. He’s very good at that. Hopefully, this will move us forward.”
Claybaker said the city’s acquisition of a portion of the Ansel Hutchison Estate in late 2017 helped pave the way for the EDA grant. The city purchased 80 acres, with an option to buy two additional 80-acre tracts.
“Tim had the vision to buy it,” Claybaker said.
The grant was acquired with the help of the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, headquartered in Harrison.
“They’ve really taken a really good interest in actively reaching out and trying to get some of these grant funds,” Claybaker said.
Claybaker also gave credit to the city’s taxpayers, who voted in July 2017 to extend the city’s half-cent sales tax for 10 years. The city will match the EDA grant with $401,100 of its own funds.
“That wouldn’t have been possible,” without the sales tax extension, Claybaker said. “It all ties together.”
State and federal officials hailed the grant as a shot in the arm for the city and the region.
“Opportunity Zones were designed to spur investment and lead to good jobs and economic growth,” U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said in a news release. “This EDA grant will allow the Berryville industrial park to offer both while leveraging private investment and laying the groundwork for future development. I’m pleased this grant is being awarded to this project and am hopeful it will deliver more benefits to the region in the future.”
“This strategic investment in our community will serve as a catalyst for economic growth and opportunity,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), whose congressional district includes Berryville. “Long-term infrastructure improvements for the Berryville industrial park will create jobs, boost business competitiveness, and support economic growth in Arkansas. Opportunity Zones are unlocking the potential of regions across the country, and I look forward to seeing the positive impact right here in the Third District.”
“The Berryville industrial park will make the region a more attractive place for new investment and the project’s location in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone will provide additional tax incentives for business development,” Ross said in the news release.