by Mark Carter
For many central Arkansas old timers, the announcement in January that Arkansas Federal Credit Union had purchased the Family Life building in the Highway 10 corridor of west Little Rock for its new headquarters came as a surprise.
After all, Arkansas Federal has been anchored just off the entrance to Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville since 1956. Though it now has locations across the state, the credit union was an icon of Jacksonville business. But the purchase of the 97,000 square-foot building for $12 million actually capped a three-year search for a new HQ necessitated by growing pains.
Now with more than 300 employees, not to mention 113,000 members and $1.3 billion in assets, Arkansas Federal is raising its profile. In 2019 alone, the credit union opened a new branch in midtown Little Rock and renovated existing offices in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. In 2020, Arkansas Federal will open new locations in Maumelle, Sherwood and Benton in addition to a new branch (the credit union’s 19th) at its forthcoming west Little Rock base.
Once Family Life leaves in August to join its corporate parents in Florida, the credit union will begin retrofitting the building to add the branch location and accommodate for future growth of up to 600 workers. Plus, the new space will house Arkansas Federal’s entire operational staff under one roof.
Rodney Showmar, AFCU president and CEO, anticipates “better collaborative relationships” between departments and business units from the move. But he stresses Arkansas Federal isn’t leaving Jacksonville. Its current main office will remain open and the credit union will maintain its strong community involvement through local organizations such as the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council.
“The decision to move our headquarters was not taken lightly,” he says. “We did an exhaustive cost analysis to determine that it was better for our organization to buy a suitable location rather than building a new headquarters. This new location meets our needs nicely and will continue to provide us with the room and space that we need to grow.”
The move will enable the credit union to further meet its mission to “make a difference” for the communities it serves, he says.
“By adding a location to our growing west Little Rock membership allows for us to make it easier and more convenient for our members to do business with us, and it will allow for us to further invest in the Little Rock community.”
Rising just down the road from Arkansas Federal’s future home base, and also within the Ranch development, is another financial HQ. Bank OZK’s new $98 million corporate headquarters, five stories tall and encompassing 248,000-square feet, is approaching completion. Not far from the bank’s current headquarters on Chenal Parkway, the new facility anchors a 44-acre development site and will accommodate up to 900 employees.
First Security Bank, based in Searcy, also has a presence at the Ranch. Could Highway 10 be blossoming into a “bankers’ row” similar to what Interstate 630 has done for medical facilities? The Wilbur Mills Freeway, after all, has been referred to as “hospital row” with several hospitals and medical facilities lining its route through the heart of Little Rock.
Padgett Mangan of Newmark Moses Tucker commercial real-estate developers acknowledges the potential of the Highway 10 corridor but thinks banking will remain centered on downtown for now.
“The possibility of banks, or any category of business, taking advantage of the population growth and upscale demographic in an area of our city that’s growing like west Little Rock certainly isn’t a shock,” he says. “But downtown banking isn’t going away anytime soon.”