Arkansas Economic Development Commission executive director Mike Preston has been on the job for a little more than one year. This past week, his agency and the state landed one of the biggest investments in Arkansas history and peppered that success with a number of other job announcements.
The $1.3 billion Sun Paper Co. mill that will locate in Clark County will ultimately result in 250 new jobs averaging about $52,000 annually. The project has been in the works for several years, but final negotiations last weekend sealed the deal for Arkansas.
Preston told Talk Business & Politics said that Clark County was in competition with another state, but locals showed they wanted the project and last-minute terms pushed Arkansas to forefront.
“Up until the last eight months or so, it’s kind of been ‘alright, we’re ready to make a decision. Let’s move forward.’ And it was still a competitive project up until this week.”
AEDC also announced 28 new tech jobs in Paragould with the location of broadband mapping company GW Communications and 100 new tech jobs in Little Rock as mobile carrier Sprint will open a regional headquarters.
Preston said that Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s focus on computer education has sparked interest from many company leaders to look into Arkansas for site location.
“People around the country realize that Arkansas has an understanding of where the future is going. These are the tech and data-driven jobs that are important to the new generation, the Millennials,” he said.
Preston contends that despite some waning CEO confidence and an economy that rattled off a weak first quarter GDP number, economic development projects are numerous.
“”We’re excited to see that, but we’ve got a lot more in the pipeline. I think we have that momentum that we continue to talk about… we’re starting to see the fruits of that,” Preston said.
The state’s top economic development chief also said that record low unemployment has altered some of the strategy for jobs recruiting.
“Four percent unemployment – that’s great, that’s full employment. And it is. That’s where we want to go and that’s where we want to stay, but sometimes it can be challenging to find the qualified workers,” he said. “We’ve got to add in the training programs and make sure that we can go from a great job to a better job. Also, it allows us to focus more on wages. We can be more selective when we’re recruiting companies in so that we can focus on those jobs that are really diversified in the economy and bringing in a higher wage.”