Nestled along the Ouachita River in South Arkansas, Camden promotes itself as “Star of the River”. Its claim goes way back to Camden’s early days as a commercial hub with up to four steamships per day moving cotton down river to New Orleans. Today, steamships have moved into the sunset and barge traffic has been reduced to a trickle. But, the City of Camden is bringing life back to the Ouachita with investments in its riverfront. An active park with picnic areas, playground, river lookouts, boat launching area, floating pier, parking lots, and new in 2011 – Movies on the River at the Riverwalk Amphitheater every Friday in June and July.
Camden is home to the Daffodil Festival – 19 years running – two days on the second weekend of March celebrating the arrival of Spring in all of its glory with all things Daffodil. Garden and historical home tours anchor the festival with pages more of events to engage visitors. Downtown Camden is turned into a walker’s promenade filled with vendors and families exploring the City. It all comes to a close with hundreds and hundreds of rib eye steaks and all the fixings emerging from the Festival’s Steak Cook-off barbecues.
Year-long, Camden grows something else – rocket scientists. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. Fixed-wing aircraft have long made their home at the Camden Regional Airport with the state’s seventh longest runway at 6,500 LF. But no longer is there commercial air traffic. Those days are long gone. Some corporate jet traffic, but mostly recreational small aircraft continue to take off and land. But, no more than one mile away, things are churning. A world class workforce of three thousand highly-skilled aerospace and defense employees hard at work applying their know-how in producing sophisticated rockets, missiles, guided missile defense systems and other advanced weaponry.
A Growing Cluster of Aerospace and Defense Companies
As one of the largest industrial parks in the nation, the privately owned 16,000-acre Highland Industrial Park is home to a robust aerospace and defense company cluster which keeps on turning out headlines of new contract awards and kudos for its workforce. The headliners are: Aerojet, Day & Zimmerman, Esterline Defense Group, General Dynamics Armament & Technical Products, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Raytheon Missile Systems, Rheinmetall Defence, and Spectra Technologies with support from, AMC, B&M Painting, Camden Machine Tool and Die, and Highland Machine Works. It is also home to the National Ordnance and Ballistic Test Center operated by National Technical Systems (NTS). The Center is one of the most complete independent weapons and ordnance testing facilities in the country. It is fully equipped to conduct a wide array of tests on weapon systems, ordnance, rocket motors, hazardous materials and commercial products. The Highland Industrial complex has over 1,000 buildings, containing over 5,500,000 square feet of space for manufacturing, testing and warehousing. The park was formerly a U.S. Naval base for the production of munitions.
Workforce and Educational Investments
Camden has invested heavily in its workforce. It leads South Arkansas in the production of Career Readiness Certificates. It grows aerospace workers in its specialized aerospace manufacturing pre-employment training program. And, it operates an Aviation Maintenance Training School at the Camden Regional Airport approximately one mile from the Highland Industrial Park. SAU Tech has graduated hundreds of students in FAA Airframe and Powerplant Certification since 1968. Students have gone to work in aviation maintenance, repair, and overhaul positions across the state and region, including Hot Springs with AAR and Triumph, Little Rock with Central Flying Service, Dassault Falcon Jet, and Hawker Beechcraft, Blytheville with Aviation Repair Technologies, Mena with Hampton Enterprises, Greenville Texas with L-3 systems, Shreveport Louisiana with ExpressJet Services, and Mobile Alabama with Singapore Technologies MAE.
Similarly, Camden has invested in public education to motivate the rocket scientists of the future. Beginning in the seventh grade and continuing through high school, students in the Camden Fairview Public Schools receive hands on training in physics, math and engineering from over 40 engineers from Lockheed Martin bringing their experience into the classrooms. Education in Camden, Arkansas. It is Rocket Science.