The loss of nearly 350 jobs in central Arkansas “hurts,” according to Mike Preston, the state’s economic development leader, but he sees opportunities for displaced workers in regional job openings and he’s optimistic about projects in the pipeline.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Arkansas Economic Development Commission executive director Mike Preston said Kimberly-Clark’s announcement that it would close its 50-year old Conway manufacturing facility was a setback the state can overcome.
“It hurts to lose those jobs,” Preston said. “It’s going to be a blow to the region, but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to find places for those workers, so they can transition those great skills that they already have learned over the past however many years they’ve been working there into one of the companies that we have in Arkansas or one that maybe we’re recruiting to the state.”
Preston said the state of Arkansas has “a full pipeline” of potential projects at the end of 2018. He expects the first quarter to be robust with announcements.
“We’ve got a lot of people interested in our state right now and that’s a product of I think the hard work the last three and a half years that the governor, that the team at AEDC really put in to proactively market Arkansas, letting [companies] know that we’re open for business,” he said. “Our challenge is going to be able to find the sites that we need and the workers to fill those jobs.”
When asked about the types of companies looking to open in Arkansas, Preston said they’re “across the board” and include manufacturing, technology, financial services, and timber-related firms.
A U.S.-China trade war has not helped Arkansas’ recent successes of announcing five potential Chinese companies to locate operations in state. Preston said it hasn’t killed any projects, but it has slowed some down and put a pause button on potential new deals from the Asian economic giant.
“It has not, I’d say, killed any projects. It certainly slowed a couple of them down. They’re waiting to see what happens with it. Other projects are still ongoing. It’s maybe put a delay on them, but nothing is, I’d say, just killed because of that. Some have been hindered, but we’re continuing to work with the administration, work with our Chinese counterparts to make sure that these projects come to fruition. What it has done is our ability to recruit new projects from China into the state,” Preston said.
The new NAFTA agreement, known as the USCMA — the U.S-Canada-Mexico Agreement, updated some areas that needed to be revisited, but largely did not make major changes in all realms of the long-standing North American deal. Preston said that the auto sector and the advanced manufacturing jobs that come with it could see benefits from the USCMA.
“I think some of the wage concessions that you see in Mexico, I think that might help us where before companies were looking to go with Mexico because, especially in the automobile supply chain, they could get the wages so much cheaper. Now, there’s going to be that wage requirement in there where a certain amount of the percentage of the parts that touch a car has to be at at least $16 an hour. That’s going to help us maybe lure a few more jobs back to the U.S,” he said.
You can view Preston’s full interview in the video below.