Cold beer, good food, and bike trails may have sealed the deal for Arkansas’ newest foreign investment.
On Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and local economic leaders announced in a state capitol press conference that CZ-USA, a Czech Republic-based gun manufacturer would locate its North American headquarters in the Little Rock Port Authority. The $90 million facility will manufacture, warehouse and distribute the company’s high-end, precision firearms, while employing up to 565 workers over the next six years.
Construction will begin immediately, with the initial start-up planned for March 2020. Production at the Little Rock facility will commence in two, three-year phases.
Gov. Hutchinson said earnest conversations to land the foreign direct investment started over a breakfast at the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) show last year. But when Bogdan Heczko, CZ-USA chairman of the board, visited the bike trails of Arkansas and found a Czech restaurant with his favorite European beer, Little Rock gained a leg up on the competition.
“My favorite beer is Pilsner Urquell and fortunately I can get it in this restaurant,” said Heczko, a bike enthusiast who also explained that the friendliness of the state and the rollout of VIPs to work on the project impressed him that Arkansas was the place to locate.
Arkansas won out over several states, according to Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Mike Preston, in part due to the central location for U.S. distribution and workforce opportunities. Incentives provided by thestate include a forgivable loan, the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, and several sales tax and construction tax breaks. Workforce training funds will also be made available to the company. A complete dollar amount was not available at the press conference.
CZ-USA, the U.S.-based affiliate of Czech firearms manufacturer Česká zbrojovka a.s. Uherský Brod (CZUB), will locate the headquarters on 73 acres at the Port of Little Rock.
“As CZ looked to increase our presence in North America, it engaged in a multi-state search for the ideal location,” said Bogdan Heczko, CZ-USA chairman of the board. “The Arkansas workforce, culture, business climate and industry support cleared the way for us to choose Little Rock as our new home.”
It also didn’t hurt that Little Rock-based economic development consultant Lenka Horakova, a former AEDC official and chair of the Arkansas District Export Council, is the Honorary Consulate General of the Czech Republic. Heczko and state leaders credited her work for helping recruit the company to Arkansas.
In 2018, the Czech Republic imported some $2.6 million in commodities into Arkansas, and Arkansas exports to the country totaled roughly $8.2 million. Nearly 160 foreign-owned companies have operations in the state; however, CZ-USA is the first Czech company to have a presence in Arkansas.
“We are honored to have a world-renowned brand such as CZ call Arkansas home,” said Hutchinson. “The location in the growing Port of Little Rock, combined with the high-paying jobs created by the company, will improve the quality of life for all Arkansans.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott all welcomed CZ-USA to central Arkansas at the press conference.
“Little Rock is open for business, and we could not be more thrilled to have CZ-USA at the Port of Little Rock,” said Scott. “This is the largest jobs announcement in Little Rock in more than a decade. Improving Little Rock’s infrastructure is a top priority for me, which will ultimately lead to creating more good-paying jobs, of which this is a prime example.”
“This is a huge victory for Pulaski County and the region. The City of Little Rock has been working to expand the Port for a number of years, and I’m glad to see the fruits of that labor. Through a partnership with the City of Little Rock, the County is developing the infrastructure to accommodate the new development within the expanded Little Rock Port,” said Hyde.
“Working with our partners at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Port of Little Rock has increased our shovel ready sites through our strategic land acquisition efforts over the past five years,” said Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority. “Today, Governor Hutchinson announced that CZ-USA will build its headquarters and a manufacturing facility. This will be a great addition to the Port of Little Rock, bringing 565 new jobs and $90M in investment to Central Arkansas.”
CZ-USA is seeking qualified applicants at www.littlerockchamber.com/cz.