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Possible ABF job cuts keep Beebe away from ArcBest event in Fort Smith

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

Gov. Mike Beebe typically travels to a community when a $30 million deal that could create almost 1,000 jobs is being announced. But he did not attend such an announcement Friday in Fort Smith because the company expanding in Fort Smith is also the company that may move up to 400 jobs from North Little Rock to Memphis.

Officials with Fort Smith-based ArcBest Corp. announced Friday (May 30) the expansion of their corporate presence in the region with a $30 million plan that will see the construction of a new office building and data center at Chaffee Crossing and the addition of an estimated 975 corporate jobs by 2021.

News of the corporate expansion in Fort Smith comes as the company is considering consolidation of a majority of its North Little Rock terminal operation to a planned $20.5 million terminal expansion in Memphis. The move could cut up to 400 jobs from the North Little Rock operation.

As part of a cost-cutting move, ArcBest consolidated or closed eight terminals in 2013 and did the same with 22 terminals in the first quarter of 2014. ABF Freight now operates with 247 freight service centers.

“While there can be no assurances, annual expense savings associated with these network changes, which will fluctuate based on business levels and the profile and geographic mix of freight, are currently estimated to be in a range of $10 million to $12 million,” the company noted in its first quarter 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, attended the announcement in Fort Smith, and told The City Wire that it would have been “odd” for Beebe to be in Fort Smith as North Little Rock faces a major job loss. Tennille said the state is fighting to keep the jobs in Arkansas.

"Over the last year, ArcBest has either been consolidating or closing about two dozen of these terminals around the region," Tennille said in a Friday morning television interview with Roby Brock of Talk Business & Politics. "They have looked at whether or not the math makes sense for them to close North Little Rock and move those operations to Memphis. They have not made a final decision. We are working closely with them and have been talking about putting a retention package on the table to keep them here."

“The Governor feels fairly strongly that he represents all the constituents of Arkansas ... and he felt like it would just be odd” to be in Fort Smith celebrating new jobs while central Arkansas may soon lose up to 400 jobs, Tennille told The City Wire.

Tennille stressed that ArcBest was “not being punished” for its plans to move the jobs, and that Beebe realizes ArcBest has to make decisions that are in the best interests of the company and its shareholders. He also said Beebe is supportive of several efforts that may result in creating more jobs in the Fort Smith area.

“I am completely certain ... that I’ll be back here before the end of the year,” Tennille said.

A statement from Beebe’s office to Talk Business & Politics – a content partner with The City Wire – confirmed Tennille’s assessment of why Beebe did not attend ArcBest’s announcement.

"While we’re excited about ArcBest’s new headquarters and new jobs in Fort Smith, we’re still monitoring the potential (and unrelated) shutdown of another ArcBest-owned facility in North Little Rock," said Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample. "With those employees facing possible layoffs, Governor Beebe felt it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to personally be part of today’s announcement."

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In the interview Talk Business & Politics, Tennille said the "real story" is the explosion of growth in technology jobs emerging from existing Arkansas firms not traditionally thought of as data driven.

"The real story is we keep seeing these businesses that historically we thought of as one thing – a trucking company – it's getting ready to hire 1,000 data analysts. Data is driving everything," said Tennille, who hinted that more announcements of this caliber may be in the works.

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Comments

more to the story

What kept Beebe away from the $40 million GP announcement? What about Beebe saying anything about the $80 million medical school? How about the new masterplan of UAFS? What about any comment on HMA putting a call center in Ft. Smith? Roughly $200 million has been put in the city in the past few months.... Ft. Smith job development is booming and the "state's" leader is quietly avoiding saying anything positive about the city, let alone visit it. It's obvious the Gov (and maybe the Democratic party) only cares about Northeast Arkansas...

7 year itch

.....By 2021.Lots of things can change between now and then. We're still waiting for Mitsubishi. We're still waiting for the older part of town to revitalize. The good old boys keep pushing further away with the speculative hype to prove it. So why is downtown Riverfront development not happing faster than Chaffee? The BOD will blame the railroad companies. Are the RR's still that powerful in the space-age?

Really

How in the world or you tying Beebe being a Democratt to him not comingto AR. There are many posiitonsi in Little Rock held by Republicans and they didn't com either. Furthermore, your are saying the Democratic party only ares about NWA. Fort Smith up to NWA is the most Republican area in the state. Little Rock, Conway, and North Little Rock are all Democratic.

read carefully

I said Northeast Arkansas (not NWA), a primarily blue area. Beebe is the Gov and should be around for announcements like this, no matter where they are. Who cares about other elected officials who are worried about their own district? Beebe is supposed to represent all of Arkansas.

Dems And Thems

Maybe Beebe has made a political decision to avoid Fort Smith and all of the problems related to government?

Beebe boycot

I guess I am confused. I thought Beebe was governor of the state of Arkansas. Didn't realize he's the mayor of North Little Rock. Sorry for the loss of 400 jobs, there; but it's a net gain of almost 600 for the state.

Terrell L. Metheny, Jr.

Beebe And Politics

Beebe is a pretty good politician and most savvy State or National leaders will avoid and stay at arms length with communities that have serious internal problems in their government.

Avoid The Hazzards

Most good politicos will avoid problem areas that cause a loss of political capital.

not quite..

What internal problems in government does the FS community have? Are they unethical practices? Do those problems or leaders need to be reported and removed from office? Wouldn't our state's leader want to help right the political ship of the state's second largest city? Furthermore, what, as a citizen stakeholder, are you doing to hold those community leaders accountable, or to be involved and change the bureaucratic system for the better? Don't rely on hearsay. Don't rely on party lines. Recognize the fact that a state's Gov could make a positive statement about a community where companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars for new jobs and still keep at "arms length" from any local political crookedness. Does Arkansas really favor the bold, or does the state's Gov only favor NorthEAST Arkansas? If Ross is running as a second Beebe, can west Arkansas expect more of the same snubs?

Welcome Metheny

to the world of politics where they hide the bad news and lust for the good news so they can smile in front of the TV camera. Sometimes what you see is not what you get.

A bird in the hand vs. two in the bush

The key word is estimated in the next 7 years. This company has a tough time "estimating" the number of trucks it is going to order 3 months out let alone 7 years. For the calendar year '13, media reports using ABF officials as it source said they would purchase over 200 new tractors. In reality only 1 tractor was put into service in 2013. ABF projections and estimates mean nothing.

Promises Promises Promises

Thought that I had seen on The City Wire that Fort Smith had lost 14.000 jobs over the past 6 or 7 years so adding a 100 jobs per year over the next 6 or 7 years is a drop in the bucket. Don't get me wrong, any news about new jobs is good but I still think that the city is losing jobs faster than new jobs are coming in. Does anyone know how or what must be done to reverse this trend?