Grant Tennille, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, told the Legislative Black Caucus on Monday (Feb. 11) that the incentives for the $1.1 billion Big River Steel Mill don’t include racial quotas for the workforce.

Tennille told black lawmakers that he felt mandating the hiring of a certain percentage of minority workers would be a deal-killer for the state’s first superproject.

John Lyon with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau, reports:

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, asked Tennille whether Big River Steel would be expected to hire a employee force reflective of the local population. The proposed mill would be built outside Osceola, which has a population that is 53.9 percent black.

“There is nothing in the deal that requires it now, and I believe, if it’s the pleasure of the Legislature to try and amend the deal — it is absolutely your prerogative under Amendment 82 — sitting here right now I will tell you I believe that that will cause the deal to crater and they’ll take it to another state,” Tennille said.

Tennille said he was not saying that the company did not want to hire blacks, but that adding any new restrictions to the deal likely would prompt the company to go to another state that did not impose such restrictions.

Several members voiced frustration with Tennille’s answer. Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, asked Tennille if any blacks had been involved in the early stages of negotiating the deal with Big River Steel.

“I don’t know what we can do to get change unless there can be some representation on the front end at the table from people representing this caucus,” Walker said.

Lyon reports that the Black Caucus did not take a position on the proposal.

Reps. Monte Hodges (D-Blytheville), Charles Armstrong (D-Little Rock), Eddie Armstrong (D-North Little Rock), and George McGill (D-Fort Smith) are members of the Black Caucus and participated in last week’s Steel Caucus organizational meeting. Hodges is the House co-chair.

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Talk Business Staff