Marked Tree Council discusses Awesome Products deal

Monday, February 17, 2014

In late 2010, when Marked Tree received a grant to build a rail spur for a future Awesome Products facility, the city had expected Awesome would create 90 to 120 jobs in its first year of operation and up to 300 jobs in the following four years. Now it looks like that won't happen.

Over three years later, after many delays constructing the rail spur--the spur was supposed to be completed in early 2011 but was not finished until 2012--the facility only employs a handful of people, and it looks like Awesome's new plan will not employ nearly the number originally promised.

During January's city council meeting, the council discussed a letter received from L.D. Hardas, owner of Awesome Products, regarding Awesome's new proposal. The letter claimed Awesome lost a strategic partner because of the rail spur construction delay and would be putting a filling and packaging line of powder products in the Marked Tree facility instead of the bleach manufacturing plant. The letter stated Awesome would give the city $60,000 toward the construction of the rail spur to be paid at a rate of $12,000 a year for five years, and once the new packaging line was in place, the city would credit Awesome $75 a car until the amount of $60,000 was reimbursed. The letter also stipulated Marked Tree would be responsible for maintaining the spur up to the plant, including mowing.

The letter raised several questions about the city's obligations, and the proposal was turned down. During February's council meeting Monday night, City Clerk Pam Wright said she and Mayor Mary Ann Arnold went to Little Rock recently with City Attorney Jobi Teague and Alderman Michael Scott to talk to Governor Mike Beebe about the situation because there had been no communication between the city and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC). Wright said Governor Beebe set up a meeting that day between the Marked Tree representatives and representatives with AEDC. Wright said they learned at the meeting the expected number of jobs at the Marked Tree Awesome plant had been cut from 120 to a maximum of 50. "This is the first time we were told," Wright said. One of problems the council had with this is the city will not see the number of jobs it was promised but is still expected to pay $11-13,000 to insure the rail spur.

Teague gave credit to Governor Beebe for arranging the meeting but said he felt "the state blew us off." He said AEDC told them during the meeting Marked Tree would receive no help from the state on this.

"I think the meeting was a waste of time," Teague said. "The state, and by that I mean AEDC, basically said Marked Tree can figure it out on our own. The state admitted we would be lucky to get 50 jobs, maximum. If the city of Marked Tree knew that three years ago, we would never have agreed."

"We've done what we said we were going to do and they haven't," Alderman Shane Glenn said during Monday's council meeting.

When asked, Wright said the city only had a contract with Awesome regarding the charge for cars and never had a contract regarding the number of jobs.

"We may not have a contract, but someone misled us," Glenn said. "We had an agreement, we did everything we said we do. I feel taken advantage of."

The council approved, by a 5-1 vote, to have Teague draft a letter to Awesome with the council's stipulations, to be approved by the mayor.

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