Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston said there is brimming CEO confidence that has his agency’s pipeline of potential projects full.
Preston, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, also said he’d like to see the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund replenished, is excited about new tools to help fledgling companies, and is wary of bills that could impair the state’s image.
Asked if Trump’s victory has stoked business confidence to move forward on economic expansion project, Preston said there is no doubt that there has been a cause and effect.
“I go back to November, and right before the election, all of a sudden we kind of saw a real slow-down on our projects, the pipeline was kind of stopped and I think everyone was just sitting there on the sidelines waiting to see what happened in the election. And then the election happened, and Trump becomes president and all of a sudden we start to see an uptick,” he said. “Right now, our pipeline is completely full. Our project managers are spread as thin as we’ve ever been.”
He added that prospects for tax cuts, regulatory relief and restoring jobs at the national level are all contributing factors.
Preston warned that some legislation at the capitol always has the ability to undo the state’s image, which he and Gov. Asa Hutchinson have tried to project nationally as ready for manufacturing expansion and interested in technology development.
The state’s economic chief said when North Carolina was embroiled in a controversy over its transgender bathroom bill, Arkansas did its best to take advantage of the business that sought other venues.
“I know we took advantage of it, whereas companies that we were calling in North Carolina who were looking to get out after that passed. And anything that hurts the perception of the state is gonna hurt us in terms of economic development,” Preston said.
When asked if he would lobby against a transgender bathroom bill, such as the shell bill that’s been filed in the Arkansas General Assembly, Preston said, “I would certainly make it known the economic impact that it would have on our state and what it would do to our agency and the efforts that we’ve done. In the last two years, we’ve put a lot into marketing our state and telling the Arkansas story, we’re getting a lot of international attention right now. And we certainly don’t want the negative attention that that could bring.”
Preston has helped lead several bills through the legislature this session aimed at entrepreneurs and tech companies. The governor has signed into law a measure to create an accelerator funding program of $2 million for startups, for example. Is the state ready for the risk/reward associated with doling out these funds?
“There is risk associated with it and that’s why it’s capped at a $2 million investment by the legislature and we’re not going to be able to do more than $250,000 per deal,” he said. “So, you have to know that for a lot of those start-ups out there, those companies that are going, a lot of them probably won’t fail, so we have to be very diligent in the ones that we do invest in.”
Issue 3, which passed last November, will provide bond financing options for the state and local communities. Preston said that measure will be a boon for economic development. He also hopes that state lawmakers will replenish the Quick Action Closing Fund despite a currently tight budget and forecasts that project caution.
“It’s one of our most important tools that we have and we do use it wisely,” said Preston. When asked if he’d like to see it restored to its previous funding of $50 million, he said he would.
“But you know, we’ll take what we can get.”
You can watch Preston’s full interview in the video below.