An overview of economic development in Clark County since 1952 was given during Monday’s Clark County Community Economic Development and Leadership Conference.

An overview of economic development in Clark County since 1952 was given during Monday’s Clark County Community Economic Development and Leadership Conference.
Bill Wright, president of the Clark County Industrial Council and CEO of the Western Division of Southern Bancorp, described his nearly 35 years of involvement in economic development as one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
“I really think we have an opportunity to make a difference,” said Wright.
Looking back on the history of modern economic development efforts, Wright said the trend is generational.
“If they have done their job right, then they have this next group ready to go to do the economic development work,” Wright said.
According to Wright, Clark County is one of the first counties to be formed by the Missouri Territorial Legislature in 1818. Since then, Wright said a series of economic development efforts have taken place.
“Some of them were just groups of men who came together to form a cotton compress operation. We had that here for a number of years. That was a group of business guys who came together for a for profit entity,” said Wright.
In addition, numerous economic development entities, such as chambers of commerce and commercial league, have been used in order to promote the area.
Fast forwarding to January 1952, Sen. John L. McClellan told local leaders about the possibility of Reynolds Metals Company building a primary production facility in Arkansas.
According to Wright, a group of citizens traveled to Washington D.C. to visit with Sen. McClellan and Reynolds officials.
During the meeting, Reynolds representatives said they were considering a site their engineers had looked at. Reynolds was also considering another site that was owned by the same entity.
Reynolds representatives gave the local group 48 hours to secure the site in Gum Springs.
“Within 48 hours, they had actually accomplished the impossible,” Wright said.
According to Wright, the site was chosen because of its electricity, proximity to the highway, railroad access and water access.
In addition, a skilled group of individuals who had worked in agriculture, timber and other trades where they were required to use their hands also gave Clark County the advantage.
“The thing about the site they had chosen is it was occupied. It was occupied by a whole town of people,” said Wright.
Where the Reynolds Metals Plant sits today was actually the town of Gum Springs. Highway 67 was once known as West Gum Springs.
“This area was largely composed of African American families. Some of them had built very nice houses. They had churches, they had schools, and three grocery stores in that area at the time,” said Wright.
Reynolds had chosen the site, but it would require the movement of the families who were currently occupying the space.
In addition to the citizens living in the community, locals were also faced with the challenge of securing the necessary funding for the project, the moving of the St. Ruth Baptist Church and the school.
According to Wright, H.W. “Bill” McMillion went to work to gather all of the local representatives and citizens in his office to develop a plan. A finance committee and a land committee was also established to do the work that needed to be done.
“They didn’t need just a $150,000, they knew these people could not be thrown out of their house for $150,000. It was going to take a lot more money than that,” Wright said.
In the end, Wright said it cost $310,000 to put Reynolds Metals Company into the 1,500 acres it sat on. The money was raised, in cash or pledged within 48 hours. In today’s dollars, Wright said the $310,000 equates to $2.8 million.
In addition, Gurdon raised approximately $20,000, while Amity also contributed to the project.
Because Reynolds Metals had a no discrimination policy, the company designated approximately 25 percent of their jobs to African Americans.The locals believed the promise and signed the options, therefore giving their land to Reynolds.
“By the summer of 1952, either their houses had been taken down or they had been picked up and actually moved to the new Gum Springs on Highway 67,” said Wright.
According to Wright, super industries, like Reynolds Metals, drive the economic conditions of everyone, no matter where they are.
“They (Reynolds) actually help to create, in my opinion, a real middle-class for Clark County that had not existed up until that point in time,” Wright said.
Wright said various organizations and have been formed over the years.
The Gum Springs Development Company was organized in 1952 to acquire the real estate. The entity ceased in 1954, which is the same year the Reynolds Metals Plant became a reality. Reynolds remained in operation until the 1984.
“One of the things I am seeing is a lot of these industries have a 30-year life expectancy,” Wright said.
In 1955, the General Industries Cooperation was formed. This group consisted of some of the same people who served on the Gum Springs Development Council.
Multiple industries, such as Levi Strauss, General Industries and Siplast made their arrival in Clark County, along with the formation of additional entities, such as the Clark County Industrial Cooperation.
Fast forwarding to the 1980s, Wright said more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. To further complicate matters, Wright said there was no economic development expertise. A new group was formed to tackle economic development endeavors in Clark County.
The Clark County Industrial Council was formed and a tax was implemented to help install a sewer line in the Clark County Industrial Park.
As a consequence, industries such as Scroll, Petite Jean Poultry, Hitcho and the Goodrich Cooperation came to Clark County to provide jobs for the region.
“We limped along for a number of years with CCIC, we had some really great results. Our effort was always trying to produce new industry,” Wright said.
The 1997 tornado provided a challenge, as well as an opportunity for the community. Other efforts have been made to help improve the downtown area.
According to Wright, organizations, people and money are the key components to provide economic development.
In the early 2000s, plans were launched to provide money to do economic development in the county and provide a staff to do the job. An economic development half-cent sales tax was passed in 2007, and renewed in 2014.
Efforts have been made since 2011 to secure the Sun Bio mill.