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The Coolest Things Made in Arkansas Contest

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When you think about all the things that make Arkansas a great state, manufacturing may not come to mind, but the industry is an important provider of jobs and innovation across the state. One way to learn about that innovation and celebrate it is through the “Coolest Things Made In Arkansas Contest.”

Manufacturing accounts for nearly 15% of Arkansas’s total output as a state and employs over 12% of the workforce. Food and beverage manufacturing lead the way, followed by medicine and pharmaceuticals, aerospace products and parts, milling and automotive manufacturing. These manufactured goods are exported not just to other states, but around the world to many countries, including Australia, Japan, Mexico, Oman and South Korea.

The “Coolest Things Made in Arkansas” contest is new, with the first edition held in 2022. It’s a joint effort between the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, with help from Arkansas Business and a few sponsors. Both groups are non-profit organizations funded by member dues that advocate for legislation that favors business and employees and offers opportunities for networking among members and with state and local governments, trade associations and local chambers of commerce.

Alliance American-Made Rubber Bands have made it into the Featured Four category in this year’s competition. Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Rubber Company

The 2022 contest featured 16 products manufactured here in Arkansas. The competition begins with nominations in the spring. Sixteen candidates were chosen as the Super 16 coolest products, which were published in June. From there, people can vote for their favorite products. The field narrows to the Exceptional 8 in July and the Featured 4 in August. From these four products, the winner is chosen.

Some of the nominees included a familiar favorite in many homes: Cheetos. The chips are manufactured at the Frito-Lay facility in Jonesboro. These crunchy bits of cornmeal are cooked at high temperatures until they explode into their final shape, and are then coated with a special mixture of spices and cheese called Cheetle. Over 200 million bags of Cheetos are produced in Jonesboro every year and shipped across the U.S. Although Cheetos might be a crowd favorite, they didn’t make it past the second round of competition in 2022.

Though they were eliminated from the contest in 2022, Cheetos are still a cool product made in Arkansas. Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr.

In the inaugural contest in 2022, the winner of the Coolest Things Made In Arkansas Contest was the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). This rocket launcher has been produced in Camden for Lockheed Martin since 2005. It is used primarily in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. While Lockheed Martin is headquartered in Maryland, it has manufacturing facilities in Arkansas. According to contest rules, as long as the product is manufactured in the state, the company doesn’t have to be headquartered in Arkansas.

Hyrtol’s Sliding Shoe Sorter is a Featured Four in this year’s contest. Photo: Courtesy of Hyrtol

The 2023 Coolest Things Made in Arkansas Contest is ongoing and has some interesting contestants for its second year of competition. The Super 16 included American Made Rubber Bands from Alliance Rubber Company in Hot Springs and Sliding Shoe Sorters by Hytrol Conveyor Company in Jonesboro, and both products have made it through two rounds of voting to land in the Featured Four, the last voting round of competition. Alliance Rubber Bands have been a staple in Arkansas manufacturing for 100 years. The company is also the only manufacturer of rubber bands in the country. Hyrtol’s Sliding Shoe Sorter isn’t about organizing your closet. These are “shoes” placed on conveyor belts to quickly and efficiently sort all kinds of products, from letters to tires.

This year’s competition has already been whittled down from 16 contestants to the Featured Four. The four finalists are American Made Rubber Bands, Sliding Shoe Sorters, Fluff Pulp, and Swirl Tables. Fluff pulp is manufactured at Domtar Ashdown Mill in Ashdown and is made from wood fibers that are cleaned and bleached before being rolled into large rolls for shipping. Fluff pulp is extremely absorbent and is used for a variety of finished products, from baby diapers to absorbent packing for meat. Domtar Ashdown Mill can produce up to 578,000 tons of fluff pulp every year.

A roll of fluff pulp produced at Domtar Ashdown Mill. Photo: Courtesy of Domtar.

The fourth contestant is Swirl Tables from Southern Aluminum in Magnolia. These tables each have a swirl design created by local craftsmen. Each table carries a unique swirl pattern and has become popular in many venues, including schools, restaurants, hospitals and businesses. They’ve even appeared in movies.

Southern Aluminum’s Satin Swirl Tables. Photo: Courtesy of Southern Aluminum

Voting is currently open to choose the winner in The Coolest Things Made in Arkansas Contest. Voters simply need an email address, and though only one vote is allowed per day, voters can return every day through September 8 to vote for their favorite Arkansas manufacturer. The finalist will be announced on October 7. Keep up with the contest by following the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

Will it be rubber bands, shoe sorters, fluff pulp or swirl tables? No matter which product wins the title for this year’s contest, all of the entries in “The Coolest Things Made In Arkansas Contest” are cool simply by being produced in the state. Good luck to the Featured Four and don’t forget to vote.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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