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OPINION | MICHAEL PRESTON: Indispensible

Putting community above selves by Michael Preston Special to the Democrat-Gazette | August 29, 2022 at 3:37 a.m.


The Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives association (AEDCE) is meeting in Little Rock today. It's a good time to stop and consider the incredible impact this group of statewide professionals has on our economy, our communities and our way of life. In short, they're indispensable.

There are 450 members of this group from 200 communities. What do they do?

The term "economic development" means many different things; it's a very broad concept, but in essence it's the facilitation of wealth generation and economic opportunity for every community. Now think of all the aspects of our lives; it's just about everything we do to make our lives better.

Arkansas is diverse culturally, geographically and certainly economically. AEDCE is wonderfully diverse, and that drives diverse solutions to the issues facing us.

Economic development is a relationship business. Effective economic development professionals bring teams of people and various public and private resources to the table to help companies be successful, which ultimately helps Arkansans.

Think of us as liaisons to just about every facet of public governance, which includes mayors, city councils, county judges, quorum courts, service providers, school superintendents and boards, community colleges, manufacturing training and workforce developers, state officials, federal congressional offices, federal regulators at every level and, given the right time of the year, even festival organizers and high school tailgate functions.

In total, the economic developer is the glue that binds all of these institutions together. When good, bad, and even ugly things occur, the economic developer's phone rings.

So, you see the depth your local developers must attain to keep us all moving forward. At the top is keeping the jobs we have, and bringing new jobs to our communities, and as the state leader, I can tell you that's where we excel. Last week we celebrated just one of several announcements that exemplify these efforts.

Tractor Supply Company (TSC), based near Nashville, Tenn., is in need of a distribution center. It needs a central location, great access to interstates, a business-friendly atmosphere at the local and state levels, teams of all those listed above who work well together and, most importantly, an available workforce ready and willing to succeed.

Several states and communities make the cut for the final decision. In this case, our team put forward a site developed and marketed by Entergy, another great partner, as a Select Site, a program designed to pre-qualify large sites across their service area. Presentations are made, questions are answered, the communities rally to tell their stories, and decisions are made. Four hundred fifty employees and tens of millions of dollars are at stake.

In the end, TSC believes Maumelle fit its needs the best, for a lot of the reasons we've discussed. Our team won, and our economy in Arkansas benefits. Construction has begun on the 1.2 million-square-foot building in the industrial park.

Judy Keller recently retired as Maumelle economic developer, but not before she started this project. Veteran developer Courtney Dunn joined the Maumelle team, and both saw it to fruition. That's a big win for everyone.

Similar wins have been announced around the state in the last month, including at Batesville (Coil Brakes), Ash Flat (Emerson) and Searcy (Bryce Corp.)

It's been a privilege to work so closely these past eight years with of our economic development professionals in the state.

So, let's all say thank you to all the Arkansans in our profession who put communities above themselves to make the state better for all of us.


Michael Preston is the Arkansas Secretary of Commerce.


Print Headline: Indispensible

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