AEDC Moves Its Focus to Quality

by Mark Hengel  on Monday, May. 11, 2009 12:00 am  

Maria Haley: The goal of the AEDC ?is to work together to provide the services that businesses need.?

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission has had a string of high-profile announcements since Maria Haley became executive director in February 2007.

Several companies have announced the planned openings of operations in the state, most recently Caterpillar Inc. of Peoria, Ill., and its factory in North Little Rock, which promises to bring 600 jobs.

Under her leadership, the AEDC has shifted its focus. It emphasizes relationships and quality, not quantity. In addition, Haley said, the commission has advanced itself by serving existing businesses.

The AEDC has three main goals, she said. They are advancing education, because “education and economic development are inseparable”; shifting the agency’s focus to a global perspective; and strengthening the local economic development infrastructure, which is “the lifeblood of economic development.”

All three goals appear in the Strategic Plan for Economic Development commissioned by Gov. Mike Beebe and released in January. After listing the three, Haley added a fourth: focusing on business retention and expansion.

Fellow economic development officials around the state have given Haley high marks for her efforts so far. And Haley has plans to build on her success. The current economy has presented its difficulties, but also offers opportunities for the state, she said.

Working for the Clients

In the past, the AEDC focused its efforts on the communities in Arkansas. It would receive a request for proposals regarding a company searching for a site. The proposal would go out to almost every economic development official in the state, many of whom would return a proposal. It didn’t matter if a city met the criteria sought by the company.

The AEDC now emphasizes being “client focused,” Haley said. The clients are company executives and site-selection officials who work together to find possible locations for businesses.

When a company outlines the areas it is looking at, Haley and the AEDC contact only the local development officials with a chance to win the contract. That means that not as many cities are involved in the recruitment of individual companies, but the communities that are involved have a greater chance of succeeding because the decision makers are not burdened with excessive amounts of information, Haley said.

The focus is on quality, not quantity. The philosophy has emerged at the AEDC because technology has enabled companies and site selection officials to conduct much of their research before soliciting requests, Haley said.

“People do their initial research via the Web, and when they tell us their specific requirements, we try to match it with the right communities instead of showing it to the entire world,” Haley said.

Although businesses locating operations in Arkansas might bring reporters with pens and pads in hand, Haley said the commission’s efforts to strengthen business retention and development had often been overlooked.



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