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03.27.2015

The Economic Development Edge

When the housing bubble burst and the recession hit in 2008, perhaps no state suffered more than Florida. Newly constructed housing developments sat empty. Jobs fled the state. The economy tanked. At one point, unemployment in Florida reached 12 percent.

This was the environment facing Governor Rick Scott and his economic-development team just a few years ago.

Today, Florida’s unemployment rate is about 5.5 percent. Over the past four years, the Sunshine State has attracted 800,000 new jobs. Almost 150,000 of those jobs were won in competition with other states.

The future is bright in the Sunshine State — largely thanks to the work of Governor Scott’s economic-development team.

Well in Arkansas, we can also compete with the best.

Last week, I introduced Mike Preston as the new director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Mike was a big part of the team that turned around Florida’s economy and set it on a path for growth.

He served as vice president for governmental affairs at Enterprise Florida, which is Florida’s version of our AEDC. In that role, Mike played a major part in landing those 150,000 competitive jobs. By the way, those jobs pay an average of $56,000 a year.

After a national and comprehensive search for the right person to lead AEDC, I chose Mike for three reasons:

First, he has the energy to get the job done.

Second, he has the experience of getting the job done.

And third, he has the right vision. He understands where we want to go and how we want to get there.

In short, I want to see the private sector grow more than the public sector. To do that, we must create a business-friendly climate with lower tax rates, a skilled workforce and fewer government regulations. We already boast a quality of life and natural resources that are second to none.

Given all it has to offer, Arkansas is positioned to be the next economic-development success story, the next Texas or Florida.

During the interview process, we asked Mike a simple question: What motivates you? His answer: Competition motivates me. I like to win. He even said something about winning at pick-up basketball.

He’ll fit right in here.

When it comes to economic development, it’s game time, Arkansas.

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