Maria Haley, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, died Tuesday night from a brain aneurysm she suffered Friday. She was 70.
A spokesperson for UAMS confirmed her passing, which occurred around 8:45 pm.
Haley, appointed by Beebe following his 2006 election as Governor, directed an agency with more than 100 employees, and came to the state with extensive national and international experience.
She was born in the Philippines, and educated in India, Pakistan, France and Spain. Her work experience included senior director for Asia with the Kissinger McLarty Associates (2001-2007); board member with the Export-Import Bank of the United States (1994-1999); special assistant in the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House (January 1993-October 1994); and advisor to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo (2001-2002).
Haley was an official of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission from 1979 to 1992. She was in charge of the Arkansas overseas offices in Brussels, Tokyo and Taipei. She coordinated then Gov. Bill Clinton’s trade and investment missions overseas and was staff advisor to the governor on trade at the National Governors’ Association. You can read her official biography at this link.
During Haley’s tenure at AEDC, Arkansas landed major projects including Graphic Packaging (Fort Smith) Hewlett-Packard (Conway), LM Windpower (Little Rock), Mars (Fort Smith), Mitsubishi (Fort Smith) and Nordex (Jonesboro). There were also significant expansion projects secured under her direction from companies like Dassault Falcon Jet (Little Rock), Georgia-Pacific (Crossett), Golden Living (Fort Smith) Saint-Gobain (Saline County), Southwest Power Pool (Little Rock) and Windstream Corp. (Little Rock). Under her leadership, there were scores of other projects too numerous to list.
Just two weeks ago, Haley appeared on Talk Business following a speech she made to the state’s economic developers. Haley described how Arkansas economic leaders were battling the recession in their efforts to recruit jobs to the state. You can watch her interview at the bottom of this post.
‘ABSOLUTELY THE BEST DIRECTOR’
Paul Harvel, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce and former member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said Haley’s passing is painful professionally and personally.
“I have never been more saddened in my life than I am right now. She is absolutely one of the best friends Fort Smith has ever had. I am heartbroken right now,” said Harvel, who also served 21 years as head of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. “She was a key ingredient for what we wanted to do in Fort Smith.”
Harvel said Haley was a “friend to Fort Smith” long before she was the AEDC chief. He said she helped then Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric Co. to expand sales and operations in Asian markets. During a large trade show, Haley worked a Baldor booth while Baldor employees were making sales calls.
“John McFarland (former Baldor chairman and president) has said and will tell you today that she was important for the company in that part of the world,” Harvel said. “And I will tell you that is just one of many examples where she helped Fort Smith and helped Arkansas.”
However, Harvel stressed several times in the interview that it’s more than just about economic development. He has known Haley since 1986, and during his two years as president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, Harvel held the first reception for Haley after she was named AEDC director.
“Barbara (Harvel’s wife) and I are just absolutely devastated, because Maria was our personal friend,” Harvel said.
Harvel, who has been associated with the state’s economic development agency since 1968, said Haley was “absolutely the best director” in the agency’s history.
“And I really mean that. I’m not not just saying that because we are in this sad situation,” Harvel said.
Mike Malone, director of the Northwest Arkansas Council, worked near Haley when both were employed in the Clinton White House. Malone was in the office of management and administration, and Haley was the deputy director of presidential personnel.
“Maria was a tireless public servant in the Clinton Administration. She worked long hours on behalf of the administration and the American people,” Malone said.
He praised her AEDC tenure.
“She has really transformed economic development in the state of Arkansas. We are so much further ahead now than when she took the reins,” Malone said. “She certainly brought a regional focus to the work of AEDC. That was part of the Governor’s focus in his economic development plan, and she supported all regions of the state.”
BILL CLINTON, MIKE BEEBE WEIGH IN
Former President Bill Clinton, whom Haley worked for and considered a close friend, was the first to issue a statement:
Maria Haley was a great public servant, a wonderful person, and my friend for more than thirty years.
When I was Governor of Arkansas, Maria was invaluable in opening foreign markets to our products, recruiting foreign investment in our state, and supporting my work in the National Governors Association. After I became President, I nominated her to the board of the Export Import Bank of the United States. During her service, from 1994 to 1999, the Export Import Bank doubled financing for small business exports.
Before and after her time at the Export Import Bank, she served as Special Assistant to the President and as Deputy Director of the Presidential Personnel Office, helping other qualified and dedicated people serve in important positions.
Maria was really a world citizen, who never lost contact with her native nation, the Philippines, where she served as an adviser to President Gloria Arroyo. Thousands of people in Arkansas, throughout the United States, and in the Philippines, benefited from Maria Haley’s life-long commitment to bring economic opportunities to more people. As we mourn her passing, we also must be very grateful for her life.
Governor Mike Beebe (D) issued the following statement:
Maria Haley did more for the State of Arkansas than most people will ever know. Her tireless mission to create and keep jobs in Arkansas was a primary factor in our ability to ride out the recession as well as we have. After living all over the world, Maria made Arkansas her adopted home, and dedicated herself to its betterment for more than 30 years. She was one of the first people I wanted on my team when I became governor, and she will be dearly missed as a friend and colleague.
Tom Kirk, Chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, also weighed in with prepared remarks:
Maria was an inspiration to everyone she came into contact with. She was a woman of the world who brought a unique perspective to economic development, with an absolute laser focus on doing every possible thing she could do to create jobs for the people of Arkansas. We will miss her guidance and her friendship. On behalf of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission I want her family to know the important place she held in so many lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Additional comments pouring in from state business and political leaders can be read at this link.
This story was written by Roby Brock and Michael Tilley. Talk Business will update this story.