Not long after the Pentagon had awarded Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense the $30 billion contract for the JLTV project, state Economic Development Chief Mike Preston expressed disappointment in the outcome but said Arkansas put the best possible bid on the table.
“From the state’s perspective, we did everything we possibly could do,” Preston told Talk Business & Politics in a one-on-one interview. “With such strong support from the legislature, and obviously the governor and the entire congressional delegation and the local folks in southern Arkansas and specifically in the Camden area, and how we were quickly able to turn everything around and get it to Lockheed and back to the Department of Defense on time – we felt we were in a great position.”
Preston said state officials will “debrief” with Lockheed Martin officials over the next several weeks, once the Maryland-based defense contractor has a chance to meet with Department of Defense officials to get further details on what Army and Marine Corps criteria was in awarding the contract to Oshkosh.
“This is a great military vehicle that is going to phase out the Humvee. It’s tougher and stronger, and either company they went with, it was going to be a great battlefield tool for them to use. And in the end, it’s all about protecting our men and women who are in service, so we are happy to support (Oshkosh) to make our military stronger,” he said.
Preston also said the debriefing will likely be more detailed at the federal level, but said at some point state economic development officials will sit down with Lockheed Martin officials when they are able to share on the process.
“We want to get as much information as possible,” he said. “We would love to sit in some formal briefings with Lockheed, and if we have to, reach out to folks in the Department of Defense to learn from this. We want to be as prepared as possible when the next one comes around.”
Preston said one positive from the high-stakes contest to win the JLTV award that spanned more than a decade was that the state of Arkansas built a strong relationship with the nation’s largest defense contractor. He said the investment that Lockheed made in the company’s Camden operations ensures that the defense giant will be in Arkansas for a long time.
“Arkansas and Lockheed Martin are partners and we value their presence here in the state,” Preston said.
When asked if Arkansas has any other superprojects on the horizon, Preston laughed and said Arkansas is always looking for the “next one.”
“We work day in and day out here, and we have a full and robust pipeline of projects. We are hitting singles and doubles every day and landing projects that are smaller and might not get the attention because obviously home runs get the attention, but we are looking for the next pitch that will be a home run or the next superproject.”
Preston continued: “This [JLTV bid] does show that Arkansas has the ability to compete for a superproject. We have the means to do it, we are nimble and we can come together and have a legislative session very quickly. We have a governor who is extremely supportive of economic development, and I think a lot of states and businesses took note of what we were able to do with this project … and they know our team is very proactive and looking for that next lead that will be the next home run.”