73 is the new 60.
AEDC Director Maria Haley told a group of nearly 200 local economic development directors that there are 73 open projects for new business, expansions, and retentions in the state. That’s 13 more than Gov. Mike Beebe (D) had communicated in public forums during the past two weeks.
Despite the large portfolio of potential projects, Haley, who has headed the Arkansas Economic Development Commission during Beebe’s term as governor, didn’t sugarcoat economic conditions.
"It’s been really tough. It continues to be a challenge for us. The economy is not doing very well," Haley told Talk Business after her presentation to the group.
Borrowing public comments made by Beebe in recent weeks, she said the stalled projects in state were largely a by-product of Washington, D.C. gridlock. Beebe has complained that federal leaders in Congress and the White House need to find common ground on issues ranging from taxes to debt to regulations.
"We would like to get some decisions out of Washington so that decisions can be made by companies that are looking at Arkansas," Haley said.
When asked for the type of decisions she wanted to see in the nation’s capitol, Haley said, "Stability in our economy… about what our policies are going to be." She added that there is "no confidence" in Washington right now.
BY THE NUMBERS
Haley talk to the Arkansas Economic Developers included details from the second quarter of 2011 about job prospects in state.
The number of potential new businesses looking at Arkansas is up 53% over last year, rising from 45 projects to 69. Expansion projects are also on the increase as that project count has risen 27% from 51 in 2010 to 65 as of June 30 this year. Business retention projects have declined from 3 in 2010 to 1 in 2011.
An industry analysis of current projects shows that manufacturing makes up the bulk of interest in locating in Arkansas. There is also sizable interest in information technology and bio-tech projects and even 2 corporate headquarters.
The breakdown provided by AEDC is as follows:
Manufacturing – 30 projects
Call centers – 1 project
Distribution – 2 projects
Information technology – 8 projects
Corporate headquarters – 2 projects
Tourism – 4 projects
Bio-Tech/Health Care/Bio-Science – 10 projects
Non-profits – 0 projects
Unknown – 12 projects
Average wages for these industry projects range from a low of $9.00 per hour for call centers to $35.95 in the bio-tech field.
WHIRLPOOL, MITSUBISHI CONCERNS
Haley offered thoughts on recent reports regarding two major companies in western Arkansas.
Whirlpool’s Fort Smith refrigerator plant has been the subject of much speculation, including recent reports that the factory could close. The plant has seen its employment fall from 4,600 to around 1,100 with more cuts planned during the next several months. Company officials said Tuesday they are considering "options" for the plant.
Also, a $100 million Mitsubishi wind turbine plant has been in limbo due to litigation in federal court with competitor GE, as Talk Business has previously reported.
Haley said the state is doing what it can to let Whirlpool and Mitsubishi know it is ready to help however it can.
"I am concerned about those two projects," Haley confesses. "We’ve talked to Whirlpool and we’ve talked to Mitsubishi and they are still on schedule. There are some difficulties ahead, but we are tracking it and we are talking to those two companies."
Haley hinted that there may be little the state can do beyond its current offers to help due to market conditions and the free enterprise system.
"Obviously, these are business decisions of both Whirlpool and Mitsubishi and we have to respect those business decisions, but at the same time, we need to go and give them our message."
Haley’s full interview will air this Sunday night on Talk Business at 10 pm on Fox 16.