story by Roby Brock, a TCW content partner and owner of Talk Business
Economic developers across Arkansas are pushing for a position from gubernatorial prospects on the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, at one time a $50 million discretionary fund that allowed the state’s chief executive to close job prospects.
The fund, which was established in 2007, did not receive new funding for next year in the most recent fiscal session. Its balance has dipped below $7 million and the existing pool of money must last until July 2015.
Gov. Mike Beebe has used the Quick Action Closing Fund to close a number of economic prospects, such as Hewlett Packard, Nordex, and Welspun Pipes. The money has been used for workforce training, infrastructure such as roads and railroad spurs, as well as site preparation or relocation expenses. Now, a coalition of chamber leaders at the state and local level are requesting positions on the Quick Action Closing Fund from leading candidates for Arkansas Governor.
In a letter dated last week, State Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Zook, Arkansas Economic Developers President Lou Ann Nisbett of Pine Bluff, and Rogers-Lowell Chamber vice-president Whitney Yoder signed a letter to gubernatorial candidates. The letter said, in part:
“We shouldn’t have to explain the tactical benefit this incentive plays. Thousands of jobs and dozens of projects in every corner of our state can be traced directly back to this incentive.
“Incentives are only a part of economic development. But it is short-sided to think that the targeted funding the closing fund offers is anything but essential to deal-making. Consultants, local industry and growing businesses around the world need to know that Arkansas has the capacity to compete when the deal is right.
“Will you join us in the fight to create quality jobs for Arkansans? Will you pledge to support budgets that replenish the Quick Action Closing Fund annually? Please let us know so that we can let our members and economic development practitioners around the state know what candidates are willing to compete for tomorrow’s jobs.”
Talk Business & Politics had also solicited the major party gubernatorial candidates for their position on the Quick Action Closing Fund. Candidates were asked, “Do you support the fund and do you support restoring its balance to $25 million a year?”
Curtis Coleman – R
“We need an empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of the Quick Action Closing Fund. Let’s take the time to understand the ROI on the use of the Fund thus far. If it’s been effective and has given Arkansas taxpayers a good solid ROI, let’s continue the fund at it’s authorized $25/million per year funding. If not, or if the data is inconclusive, let’s reconsider if this in a worthy investment of Arkansas taxpayers’ money.”
Asa Hutchinson – R
“As Governor, before I would reauthorize funding I would require (1) stronger protections for the taxpayers in the clawback requirements when an industry does not create the jobs promised; (2) I would require a cost benefit and risk analysis prior to the release of funds; and (3) there should be greater transparency when a company fails to meet its end of the bargain.”
Mike Ross – D (statement from his spokesman, Brad Howard)
“Unlike Congressman Hutchinson who called it a ‘slush fund’, Mike Ross has always fully supported the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, and the results so far have been overwhelming with the announcement of 30,000 new jobs in Arkansas. As governor, Mike will bring Democrats and Republicans together to secure the annual $25 million we need for the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund so that we can continue to compete with surrounding states for more and better-paying jobs in Arkansas.”
Democrat Lynette Bryant did not respond to a request for comment.