Before area leaders can think seriously about creating a regional Intermodal authority, which could possibly bring $3 billion to the area and add 4,000 jobs to Faulkner, Perry and Conway counties, those who will be involved with the major decisions listened to some who have already succeeded.
Officials involved in forming and intermodal authority in Fort Smith spoke with city and county leaders recently about what it would take to get the ball rolling. A group of leaders has been meeting for the past 6 months to talk about possibly joining forces to draw industry, including a trucking company, to the Conway area.
"We don’t want to drag anyone where they don’t want to go," said State Sen. Jason Rapert. "But we do want to be available to help this process along if that’s what is needed."
Rapert pointed out that what could come of the process in forming and intermodal authority would not compete with Fort Smith, but it would be its own entity along the Arkansas River.
But the point driven home by those from Fort Smith was "trust." Bringing in the right experts from the various skill sets in order to move the process along faster is paramount, according to Mat Pitsch, who was the point person for the operation in Fort Smith.
"You need to look at experts in shipping, finance, marketing, trade zones," Pitsch said. "Those are the real keys to success. Setting up an organizational structure where you are not weighted toward one particular skill will allow everyone to work together."
Anyone hoping for money from the federal government for this might be "whistling Dixie," according to Fort Smith officials. And state officials could have their hands full this next session.
"We are still dealing with the Medicaid shortfall," State Rep. David Meeks said. "This may not be something that gets brought up this year."
Ordinances asking quorum courts in Faulkner, Conway and Perry counties to join an authority — to be called the Central Arkansas Intermodal Authority — are already drafted and ready to go before the courts. Faulkner County would have five out of 13 seats on the authority with the other two counties splitting the rest evenly, according to a draft ordinance handed out at the meeting.
The authority’s powers will include getting grants, borrowing money and entering contracts to do what it can toward building an Intermodal facility, according to the draft ordinance.