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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson tours the L’Oreal Maybelline manufacturing and distribution facility in North Little Rock on Tuesday before declaring Arkansas “an open-investment” state that welcomes international firms. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

Arkansas will continue to welcome foreign investments that bring jobs to the state, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday as part of a group's nationwide effort to counter any anti-trade sentiments that might come from Washington, D.C.

Wearing white lab coats, safety goggles and hairnets, Hutchinson and first lady Susan Hutchinson took a tour Tuesday morning of the French-owned L'Oreal Maybelline Co. plant off Interstate 40 in North Little Rock.

The plant, with some 450 employees, churns out 1 million cosmetics products a day. "We make a product here in Arkansas that is exported to scores of countries across the globe," Hutchinson said. "That's global trade, and Arkansas is leading in that."

The North Little Rock cosmetics production plant is the largest in the world and contributes an estimated $40 million to the Arkansas economy each year, the plant's manager, Eric Fox, said. Maybelline opened the North Little Rock plant in 1975. L'Oreal bought Maybelline in 1996.

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After the short tour, Hutchinson declared Arkansas "an open-investment" state that welcomes international companies such as L'Oreal. Foreign-owned companies have hired 46,400 Arkansans in the past five years, with 60 percent of those jobs in manufacturing, Hutchinson said.

Jobs created by such "foreign direct investment" have increased by 41.5 percent in the past five years -- the highest such rate nationally -- compared with a 2.6 percent increase in other private-sector employment, Hutchinson said.

While some 450 foreign companies have created jobs in the state for decades, Hutchinson said signing an "open-investment policy" would strengthen ties with those companies and improve the state's international marketing efforts elsewhere.

Foreign investment "is not necessarily a new issue," Hutchinson told reporters later. But companies such as L'Oreal are "nervous" about possible changes by President Donald Trump's administration in U.S. trade policy, he said.

"They're nervous about what the future of national policy on trade is going to be," he said. "Are we going to set up tariffs? Are we going to continue with an open trading policy and an emphasis on global trade? I continually want to give that assurance to them, that Arkansas is open for business, that we welcome foreign investment."

Hutchinson is the fourth governor to sign such a statement, a campaign being pushed by the privately run Organization for International Investment in Washington, D.C.

Governors of Kentucky, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania have signed similar statements this year, said Nancy McLernon, the organization's president and chief executive officer, who joined Hutchinson at the L'Oreal plant.

The organization has more than 180 foreign companies as members, including three dozen with operations in Arkansas.

No governor has refused to sign the open-investment statement, and the group is working now with 15 other governors on future statements, McLernon said.

She also said it's important for the organization to have events like the one at the L'Oreal plant to show workers the importance of global investment and how it affects them.

Business on 07/19/2017

Print Headline: Governor hails foreign investment

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