AEDC Director Outlines Sun Paper Details, Does Not Expect Legislative Session

Mike Preston, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, speaking on Talk Business & Politics.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

Fresh off his 8-day trip to Japan and China, AEDC executive director Mike Preston said the announcement of a $1.36 billion agreement with Sun Paper Co. will not likely result in the need for a legislative “superproject” special session.

“I think we have a very aggressive incentive package on the table,” Preston said. “There’s still some negotiations to go, but I don’t think we’ll have to go to the legislature.”

He noted the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund and existing economic incentives already on the books will come into play to wrap up the Sun Paper project. Earlier this year, the Arkansas legislature met to approve a bond package to entice government officials to select Lockheed Martin’s Camden operations for a multi-billion dollar military vehicle factory.

Although Arkansas fell short on the Lockheed Martin deal, Preston said the Sun Paper factory – which will make “fluff pulp” from timber byproducts – will be a boost for South Arkansas’ struggling timber industry. He also said average wages for the as-yet-unknown number of manufacturing jobs would be in the range of $27 per hour.

A week ago, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced he had signed a “letter of intent on investment cooperation” with Chinese-based Shandong Sun Paper Industry Joint Stock Co. to pursue the $1.36 billion pulp mill, which he said would create “hundreds” of direct jobs. The letter of intent set a May 1, 2016 date to finalize a site for the project.

Preston said the Sun Paper Co. project was started during the Beebe administration. He said conversations continued with three Chinese visits to Arkansas and last week’s trip by the Arkansas delegation to China.

“We started talking about a month before the trip that we’d like to get something, let’s get this close to finalized. We started working through it and actually while we were there is when we were able to sign the MOU [memorandum of understanding].”

Watch more of Preston’s interview on the Chinese pulp factory deal and other aspects of the trade trip in the video below.