Fresh off a trade mission to Asia, Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston said the pipeline remains open for foreign direct investment in Arkansas.
In October, Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled a dialing back of overseas investment from his country. Preston said that this trip provided more insight into the direction he believes the Chinese government will go.
“We knew that there was going to be some tightening of funds coming out of China, but it’s on — as they refer to them — as vanity projects, on things in the entertainment industry and gaming industry. Projects like those they’re tightening,” he said.
“Traditional projects like we’ve worked, in manufacturing, investments into infrastructure, things like that, that pipeline is going to continue to flow, and that’s what we were able to learn on this trip, that those projects are still going to come,” added Preston, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.
The AEDC chief said Sun Paper, the $1.3 billion Chinese pulp mill project slated for Clark County, remains on track and that was a crucial meeting on this recent trip.
“They’re down to their final air permit. They told us when we were there they have their consulting firm, who’s a European-based group, working on that. They should have all that information submitted to ADEQ [Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality] by the end of the month. So once they get that permit, then they’ll be able to move forward on starting to do some construction and turning a little dirt,” he said, noting that he expects a groundbreaking by the middle of next year.
Recently, Arkansas discovered it was eliminated from the competition for a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda U.S. manufacturing plant despite being a runner-up in two previous bids. Preston said it boils down to workforce and site preparedness.
“We need to be able to stand up a ready workforce and in the time that they needed to. And then available sites, we’ve got to have a shovel-ready site in the state of Arkansas. This project was moving so quickly that I think there were some things that stood in Arkansas’ way, and I think we can overcome them. We’re going to learn a lot from this project, we’re going to learn a lot more as we sit down with Toyota,” said Preston.
Preston also discussed the topics of federal tax cuts, additional workforce needs, and wage growth. Watch more of his interview in the video below.