Mike Malone, President and CEO of the influential Northwest Arkansas Council, tells Talk Business Arkansas that lawmakers need to act favorably on the $1.1 billion Big River Steel Mill superproject.

The deal, which requires legislators to approve a $125 million bond issue for incentives and loans, is expected to create 525 direct jobs in Phase I of the project in Osceola (Mississippi Co.).

Malone said the state has to approve the project for a number of reasons.

“You’ve got to take some level of risk because with no risk, there’s no reward,” he said. “This one’s in east Arkansas, but we’re all Arkansans and we’re all in this state budget and state economy together.”

Malone, whose organization advances the interests of powerful northwest Arkansas businesses such as Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt, said Big River Steel offers a rare opportunity for the state.

“For big projects, the scope and magnitude of Big River Steel, it sure seems to me like that’s an opportunity the state shouldn’t pass up,” Malone said. “We’re only going to get a handful of mega-projects come along, and if there’s a good chance it’s going to succeed or a minor chance it’s going to succeed, I certainly want to see our state take that chance.”

Malone also warned that economic developers from around the world are watching how Arkansas legislators will decide on the superproject.

“If we don’t stay in the incentives game, if we don’t invest in an opportunity that comes along like this, it’s going to put us at a disadvantage for future projects. They’re not even going to come this direction in the future,” he said.

Malone also discussed the region’s efforts to upgrade the Flint Creek power plant and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in northwest Arkansas. Click here to watch a video interview from the capitol.

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