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NLR food distributor sets plan for new hub

Posted: May 14, 2014 at 2:54 a.m.

Mike Roach (center), president of Ben E. Keith Co., talks Tuesday with North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith (left) and Matt Erskine with the federal Economic Development Administration.

Ben E. Keith Co. will expand in North Little Rock with a $60 million, 300,000-square-foot distribution center and addition of 74 jobs, Gov. Mike Beebe announced Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Ben E. Keith to expand NLR facility, add 74 jobs

On Tuesday, representatives from Ben E. Keith announced that the foodservice company is building a new facility, which will add 74 jobs to the company which already employs 260 people. (By Lisa Burnett)
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The figures revealed Tuesday are similar to those in a Dec. 6 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, though the number of jobs had been estimated at 80 and the center's size was said to be 50,000 square feet larger.

The company will receive assistance worth millions of dollars in cash and in-kind contributions from state, federal and municipal governments.

Mike Roach, president of the Fort Worth-based company, said that the average hourly wage at the plant will be $33.75, including management.

The federal Economic Development Administration will contribute a $1.5 million grant to aid the new food-distribution center and accommodate subsequent facilities in the vicinity, said Matt Erskine, deputy assistant secretary in the Commerce Department.

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New Ben E. Keith center site map

The grant will help the city purchase generators and other equipment for installation along the intersection of Arkansas 70 and Interstate 440 to serve the new facility and to attract other industry and businesses.

The company has eight distribution centers for 11 states, including the one in North Little Rock at 1200 Pike Ave., which has 160,000 square feet and opened in 1973 and services Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and parts of Missouri. The company also has a facility of nearly 60,000 square feet at the Port of Little Rock for distribution for Sonic Drive-ins.

Both will be consolidated into the new plant, which Roach said will be a "semiautomatic warehouse."

"This new center will allow us to greatly expand our product line and better serve our thousands of valued clients in this market," Roach said in a prepared statement.

One area of potential expansion is distribution for other chain accounts, said David Werner, vice president of marketing for the company.

Construction will start in the summer, with completion expected 18 to 20 months later, Roach said.

The company bought 70 acres for the plant in November after looking at other options, including relocating out of state.

Rusty Mathis, general manager of the North Little Rock plant, said in the earlier article that Ben E. Keith looked at two locations in the Memphis area.

The company will receive $2.28 million from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund for site preparation and energy-efficiency measures, according to Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

The company also qualified for the state's Tax Back program in which it gets sales-tax refunds on building materials, and taxable machinery and equipment.

It also qualified for Advantage Arkansas in which it will get a 1 percent state income-tax credit for five years on the salaries of full-time employees whose jobs are created as a result of the expansion. Additionally it will get $100,000 for infrastructure, and separately, help with training.

North Little Rock has provided a financial package worth about $800,000, Mayor Joe Smith said after the announcement at the Capitol.

The North Little Rock Economic Development Corp. will contribute $180,000 and the city will waive fees estimated at $100,000, Smith said.

The Legislature's general improvement fund allocated to the city will provide $120,000, Smith said.

The city will own the generators to be installed for industry and will be able to use them at peak-demand times for the company and the city at a much lower rate than on the open market. Smith put the figure, which he said was very rough, at $400,000 as a contribution to the company.

"They're such a wonderful corporate citizen. We're excited that they're staying here and expanding," he said.

Business on 05/14/2014

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