Arkansas jobs chief talks ‘superproject’

story by Roby Brock, a TCW content partner and owner of Talk Business
roby@talkbusiness.net 

Grant Tennille, former communications director for Gov. Mike Beebe and current Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director, sat down with Talk Business for a conversation on the legislative agenda he plans to support in the 2013 regular session.

Tennille supports the Governor’s approach to Medicaid expansion, saying it is as much an economic issue as it is a health issue. He referenced the Governor’s citation that more Medicaid dollars inject a financial stimulus into rural communities. He added that more dependence on Medicaid wasn’t a selling point he would drive home with economic prospects.

“I’m not going to sell ‘we’ve got Medicaid for our citizens,’” said Tennille, but he said better health leads to a better workforce, which leads to a healthier business climate.
As the Governor hinted in his State of the State address, Tennille said Arkansas is in the running for a economic development superproject.

“I’ve spoken enough and enough people know that we are in the running for an advanced manufacturing project with an investment value north of $1 billion. A large number of employees, a good company,” Tennille said. “And, we are increasingly confident that we will be back to the legislature very quickly, very likely to trigger Amendment 82.”

Tennille first teased of the large project during an October panel discussion held in Rogers.

“It will be well north of $1 billion,” he told a gathering of Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders at the World Trade Center building in Rogers.

Amendment 82 is the state’s superproject amendment, which allows general obligation bonds to be issued to finance infrastructure for large-scale industrial projects that meet certain spending and employment thresholds.

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Tennille said he’s expecting his agency to be part of a broader business coalition that will support a state energy plan.

“None of us are ready to announce the package,” Tennille said, adding that it will include 9 or 10 elements. “That effort has been underway for a number of months with all of the affected stakeholders,” which he said included utility companies, industrial users, oil and gas companies, green energy businesses, and some members of the environmental community.

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