Arkansas Airport increases business

Tuesday, August 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HIGHFILL, Ark. – Communities around Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport are seeing an increase in business activity, something local officials say represents money brought in because of the airport.

But Highfill, where the facility opened in November 1998, is waiting for new storefronts still. The small town still has only a general store and one or two other businesses, according to new Mayor Kevin Varner.

The airport "is our main business," he said.

The state allows the town of 300 to keep revenue from sales and "hamburger" taxes at the airport but exempts the airport from the city's regulations and other taxes.

Mr. Varner said the airport adds between $10,000 and $15,000 each month to city coffers.

Now, Highfill is preparing for an anticipated influx of airport-related businesses that will boost the town's finances further. The town is using some of the money it gets from the airport to upgrade its water system and is working with other neighboring towns to install its own sewer system. The move is expected to spur development that is taking place in neighboring towns.

For eight years, M.C. Chitsazan has owned the Cave Springs General Store, a combination grocery, restaurant, laundry and gas station. He said the airport has been a boon.

"We get a lot of Wal-Mart vendors and people from J.B. Hunt [trucking company] and Tyson. You'd be surprised how many people call on Wal-Mart," Mr. Chitsazan said. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is based in Bentonville; Tyson Foods Inc. has its headquarters in Springdale and J.B. Hunt Transport has offices in Lowell.

Gary Shores, owner of Shores Hardware, said he expects more growth.

The airport "has increased business but not so much for us, per se," he says. "Our biggest impact was during construction. We do sell the airport maintenance supplies."

Mr. Shores said the airport might have more impact later, when more people start moving into the area. He said several new housing developments around Cave Springs will provide customers.

Several developers have been buying land and putting up signs aimed at buyers or tenants.

Among them is The Old Farm development owned by a Dallas corporation. It has about 250 acres for sale near the airport's entrance on Arkansas 12.

The land is zoned commercial-industrial, and the owner plans to build a hotel and restaurant, convenience store and office buildings, among other things, spokesman Richard Binns said.

"We've had quite a few people interested. We plan on starting our office buildings by the end of the year," he said.

Also close to the airport entrance is Van Dyke Center, the 40-acre development owned by Brooke Van Dyke of Rogers, whose plans for the site include rental-car agencies, hotels, restaurants and office suites.

At 1.1 million square feet, the largest development near the airport now is Wal-Mart Distribution Center No. 4. It opened in May, and large trucks from the facility are adding to the traffic on Arkansas 12.