The past two weeks have been unusually busy ones in the Arkansas community of Helena-West Helena. There has been an unusual mix of news stories about its music, criminal justice and economic development that has had people across the state talking about Phillips County. For many in the Delta, this is all positive news, putting them on a path to new beginnings.
First came the expected news of another successful year for the King Biscuit Blues Festival, a proud tradition in Helena-West Helena for 25 years and a draw for music lovers worldwide.
Then, two days after the festival ended, the culmination of a massive federal-state law-enforcement operation led to more than 60 arrests in Phillips County. Most of these were tied to allegations of drug trafficking and corruption. Five police officers are among those placed under arrest. While some viewed this as a black eye for a troubled community, people I've talked to in Helena-West Helena see this as an opportunity for a fresh start and a return to prosperity.
The Arkansas Delta was once our state's economic engine, but extreme poverty and a declining population have stricken the region for decades. Many families remain there, families who have lived in the area for generations, and who still believe the Delta can be prosperous again with investment in its future. Local residents have hope that the federal investigation has uprooted problems that have plagued Helena-West Helena for far too long. And, as for future investment, this brings us to the third piece of big news for the town.
This past week, I joined representatives of four companies that announced new or expanded operations in Helena-West Helena. Enviro Tech, a food-safety chemical company from California, will open a new facility in town. Three companies already located in town, Delta American Fuel, Quapaw Products and Southern Hardware, will expand their operations and add employees. The result will be 87 new jobs and millions of dollars invested. While not as big as other job announcements in the State, this is a show of faith in the workforce and in the community that will help convince other companies of the continued viability of doing business in the Delta.
The job announcement continues a theme that is vital to economic development in all of our communities: bringing in new business while not forgetting the companies already here. While the Arkansas Economic Development Commission puts tireless efforts into attracting new industries and companies to our State, they also remain in contact with the businesses we already have and work to help them expand. Companies that find continued prosperity not only provide employment stability in our communities, they also set examples, showing others that Arkansas is a place where long-term success is possible.
As Governor, I'm responsible for all 500 communities in Arkansas, and we work hard to find economic opportunities for all of them. But this week, it was especially gratifying to see this good news for Helena-West Helena. It demonstrates that faith in your town and persistence to make it better can foster success.