Out of the Storm: Marmaduke, Ark. Thrives as American Railcar Expands
By Laura Hendrix Corbin
In July 2007, more than a year after being devastated by a massive tornado, Marmaduke received one of the highest honors an Arkansas town can get for its efforts in community development – being recertified as an Arkansas Community of Excellence (ACE).
It’s just one sign of the drive this rural community has to succeed.
ACE, the cornerstone of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s community development efforts, helps communities devise a blueprint to focus on economic growth by expanding their local economy and enhancing the quality of life for residents.
Gov. Mike Beebe in July recognized the Greene County town for its work in which community leaders focused on economic and community development issues, such as business retention, expansion, health care, infrastructure, education, residential construction, and parks and recreation.
Highlighting the success of the community’s progress was the groundbreaking during the same month of a new manufacturing facility for American Railcar Industries Inc. (ARI) – a leading North American manufacturer of covered hopper and tank railcars. The groundbreaking in Marmaduke followed two additional expansions for the company – one in Marmaduke and another in nearby Paragould. In total, the projects for ARI entail $51 million and the creation of more than 300 jobs in the region.
ARI is investing $13 million in the new Marmaduke facility – a “flexible” facility that will produce covered hopper railcars, intermodal cars and tank railcars – creating 30 new jobs. The additional expansions in the community and in Paragould will create 275 new jobs with an investment of $38 million.
Achieving ACE recertification and seeing the new investment and jobs by ARI are quite momentous for a community that was severely damaged by a major tornado in April 2006, with nearly every structure receiving some degree of damage.
Still, the community of fewer than 1,200 stayed strong and forged ahead.
It’s the kind of tenacity that originally brought ARI to Marmaduke. “The town is very independent and proud,” says Jim Cowan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ARI. “The work force is the same, and this is needed for our work environment.”
Cowan says Marmaduke’s proximity to its sister facility in Paragould – about 15 miles – made the community attractive when ARI first selected it. “We could use the same office staff, and we had a good relationship with the local community and its leaders. Again, the work force in the area was exactly what we were looking for.
“A rural location usually means a fair number of folks with farming backgrounds will apply for jobs, and these are some of the hardest workers in the world,” Cowan adds. “They are very independent and are confident in making many decisions without being told what to do every minute – that’s a plus.”
Cowan notes that the local leaders as well as state officials always have provided the needed infrastructure and worker training assistance to ARI.
Marmaduke is poised to continue its success in economic development. As part of its ACE process, its business leaders have focused on all aspects that can help its success, including a number of specific projects. Those include partnering with the Greene County Chamber of Commerce to establish a 2,000-acre super site; working to attract retail shops to the city; developing housing to accommodate the area’s growing work force; increasing the number of students going to college; improving, repairing and increasing the number of recreational facilities; and continuing efforts to make highway improvements.
Gov. Beebe said it best when congratulating the community on its ACE achievement – “This certification represents the commitment and dedication of the citizens of Marmaduke to make their town a destination for businesses to locate. The people of this town have worked hard to plan for their future, and I look forward to their success in making this plan a reality."