New commerce secretary says entrepreneurship will be a focus

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,979 views 

Lured out of retirement by Gov. Sarah Sanders, Hugh McDonald, former Entergy Arkansas CEO, said he still has a lot to contribute.

“I got a call one night out of the blue and had an offer that I really couldn’t refuse. The Governor is a good negotiator, and I think I still have a little bit to contribute and it’s in sort of the wheelhouse that I worked a lot in in my previous life in economic development and workforce development and running a large organization,” said McDonald, a guest on this week’s Talk Business & Politics. McDonald retired from Entergy in 2018 and he is the former chairman of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

He will be different than his predecessor, Mike Preston, who wore two hats as Secretary of Commerce and director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. McDonald will wear the cabinet secretary hat and he’s elevated Clint O’Neal to the AEDC director’s post.

McDonald said he wants to help new businesses get off the ground whether they are innovative, tech-based startups or traditional mom-and-pop operations that provide goods and services.

“I think the state as a whole does a good job at traditional economic development – recruiting new businesses, expanding existing businesses with the incentives we have in place,” he said. “What we don’t do enough focus on, in my opinion, is for example, entrepreneurship, helping the little guy.

“There’s various ESOs [entrepreneur support organizations] across the state. I want to find out how can the state and economic development support that network on a more holistic fashion than we have in the past, because you’ve got so many. I mean 99% of the companies are small business. How do we support that network?

“You’ve got kind of two groups of small business. You’ve got maybe the innovation type, the tech type, that venture capital go in at various stages and those companies scale up, but you also have the mom-and-pop retail small businesses. They are a different type of small business, different type of entrepreneur, but they’re both important in terms of nurturing, supporting from a state economic development perspective. And they grow in different ways and they should be supported more to be able to do that. So they both affect quality of life. They both affect talent recruitment in different ways, which is also very important for us to do as a state.”

McDonald said he hopes to launch a summit to invest and promote entrepreneurial support in the state. He says state backing is important for this pursuit and it may involve developing new incentives to assist business.

Another big focus for his agenda includes the workforce of the future. McDonald can read the changing labor demographics and he says the economy is in solid shape.

“I think our biggest challenge is workforce, workforce development. Our unemployment rate is low. I mean, we’re almost at the full employment perspective. We’ve got more job openings than we have applicants at this time. So, the question, I’m not an economist, but the question about are we going to go into a recession? Who knows? Smarter people than I can advise you on that, but I think the economy is strong. It’s a diversified economy in Arkansas. That’s one advantage we do have. So, I’m bullish on the economy in Arkansas,” he said.

You can watch McDonald’s full interview in the video below.