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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Calico Rock recovering after plant closing

Complete Access is helping to complete the economic recovery in Calico Rock after it lost its biggest employer two years ago.

For more than a year, Complete Access has provided 20 full-time manufacturing jobs and up to 60 part-time jobs in a town devastated by the closure of Ozark Iron Works in 2004, said Velda Dixon, president of the Industrial Development Corporation in Calico Rock.

Complete Access builds staircases and handicapped accessible ramps.

Dixon, 53, was one of 100 workers who lost their jobs when Ozark Iron Works closed. "It was scary," Dixon said. "It had a major economic impact on my family. We're still trying to recover."

After Ozark Iron Works closed some families had to leave town in search of work, and others had to drive long distances to Mountain Home and Mountain View to find jobs, Dixon said, and this took even more money out of the local economy.

Besides Complete Access, small business growth and the expansion of Community Medical Center -- Calico Rock's only hospital -- have spurred economic activity in the Izard County town with a population of about 1,000.

Angie Richmond, administrator at Community Medical Center, said more than $4 million is being spent to renovate and expand the hospital's surgery room, physical therapy services and endoscopy services.

The renovation, which is scheduled for completion in May of 2007, will increase the size of the hospital by almost 50 percent, she said.

"We're growing and we hope to provide state-of-the-art medical service for patients throughout this area," Richmond said.

Community Medical Center received a USDA grant to pay for most of the construction costs, Richmond said.

Even though the expansion isn't complete, Richmond said her hospital's patient census has nearly tripled since the summer, with some of those patients coming from outside the Calico Rock area.

"We've been promoting our hospital, and I think it has a lot to do with our increase in business," Richmond said. "And I think the excellent reputation of our doctors, especially Dr. Brad Mayfield, (surgery and endoscopy)."

The hospital's expansion is not limited to Calico Rock. Community Medical Center has recently opened clinics in Horseshoe Bend and Melbourne.

Within the last year, a Subway restaurant, a mechanic's shop and an upholstery business have opened in Calico Rock, Dixon said. Last September, the city began airing television ads on AETN, Arkansas' public access channel, she said.

The ads are meant to promote tourism, said Dixon, who has lived in Calico Rock for more than 30 years.

Small business growth contributes to the economic vitality of the town, but attracting a manufacturer is still a top priority, Dixon said. She said the Industrial Develpoment Corporation has been negotiating with a company that could bring manufacturing jobs into the area.

The unnamed company has been offered a spot in the city's industrial park, but a building capable of meeting their needs has not been found yet, Dixon said.

After she lost her job with Ozark Iron Works, Dixon said she was unemployed for six months. During the time her husband suffered an aneurysm and was out of work for almost a year.

Without medical insurance and a steady income, Dixon said, they would have lost their house, but friends and family helped them to pay their bills.

Still recovering, Dixon said, her personal economic prospects are improving and Calico Rock's are too.

"There's a lot of people trying to help this town, and I think we're going to do it, she said."

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