Economic development in Clark County and across the State of Arkansas were some of the talking points of Mike Preston during a recent visit to the Siftings Herald.

Economic development in Clark County and across the State of Arkansas were some of the talking points of Mike Preston during a recent visit to the Siftings Herald.
Preston was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to serve as executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in March 2015. Preston is widely regarded as a leading advocate for economic development.
According to Preston, the acquisition of the Sun Bio mill creates a great opportunity for Clark County and the region.
During a recent visit to China with Gov. Hutchinson, Preston said it was disclosed that Sun Bio is hopeful to have the data for their final air permit submitted soon.
“Once they have that (the air permit) it will be in AEDQ’s hands and they are ready to turn it around and expedite it as quick as possible,” Preston said.
According to Preston, a period of 60 days has been designated for public comments.
“Once all of that is done, they are ready to move forward in terms of starting to turn some dirt and break some ground and getting some leveling and engineering work done,” said Preston, who noted that approximately 1,000 jobs will be created during the period of time it will take to build the mill.
“As the economic development commission, we have been very successful the last couple of years. Highlighting the timber industry is something that has been important to us,” Preston said.
Preston noted the importance the timber industry has on Clark County and the southern part of the state.
“What we are trying to get out is we have room to grown,” said Preston. “We are at 19 million acres of timber industry. The forestry department tells us we have an abundance and we actually need to start cutting more timber to keep up with the growth we have naturally.”
With the acquisition of Sun Bio and the work that is being done to move the project forward, Preston said the state is looking to recruit other businesses that will produce additional indirect jobs.
“There are a lot of good things happening in Arkansas,” said Preston, who added that the state unemployment rate is currently at 3.6 percent. Clark County reported an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent for the month of September.
“We’re looking for more workers to supply the demand. We have a lot of companies that are still looking to come in. The challenge they have now is finding people to work and who are willing to go to work,” said Preston.
Plans are in the works to partner with colleges and universities to tailor the curriculum industries are looking for.
“When we are recruiting and sitting with the company to talk about their needs, it is really about the workforce and how can we have a training program that’s tailored to what the company is looking for,” said Preston. “That’s why the partnership with the colleges and universities is so important so that they can really adapt to the needs as we see fit with industry coming forward.”
Preston noted the state’s workforce cabinet is working to development a strategic plan in terms of workforce development.
According to Preston, both state and Sun Bio representatives are confident the project will take place.
“They are very confident this is going to happen. It was great meeting with the chairman of the company and his project team,” said Preston. “They have folks here in the U.S. who they are working with and a consulting firm out of Finland. We made a lot of progress there, they are excited, they are thrilled about how welcoming Arkadelphia and Clark County has been. They see opportunities for growth. ”
In addition to Sun Bio, Preston said there are other projects going on in the state. Preston reported he was recently in Fayetteville for an announcement regarding Our Pharma, which is a pharmaceutical compounding company that will start with approximately 10 to 15 employees before expanding to approximately 100 workers within the next seven years.
Another project, Ruyi, a textile company headquartered in Shandong Province, China, will create up to 800 new jobs in its facility in Forrest City.
According to Preston, Ruyi representatives are investing $410 million to retrofit the former Sanyo manufacturing facility. Production is expected to begin by mid-2018.
Preston noted Arkadelphia’s location along Interstate 30, its proximity to major highways and its close proximity to major markets such as Dallas, Shreveport, Memphis and Oklahoma City as some of its key selling points to companies who are considering relocation.
Preston noted The presence of Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University and an initiative by citizens of Clark County to pass and extend the life of the half-cent economic development sales tax provides Clark County with an additional advantage over other communities in the state.
Prior to joining the AEDC, Preston served for more than six years as the Vice President of Government Relations for Enterprise Florida. During his tenure at Enterprise Florida, he was part of the team that helped create more than 147,000 jobs paying an average wage of $56,437 and generating $10.07 billion in capital investment.
Since joining AEDC, Preston and Gov. Hutchinson have made business recruitment trips to Japan, China, France, Germany, Israel, Cuba, Mexico, New York City, United Kingdom and Silicon Valley. The trips continue to play an important role in the state’s economic development efforts and have led to more than 300 companies signing agreements with AEDC to locate or expand in Arkansas. These companies are investing $6.8 billion and creating more than 11,200 new jobs.