AEDC Director Targets Global Marketplace

by John Henry  on Monday, May. 14, 2007 12:00 am  

Maria Haley, director of the AEDC

If anyone can give the Arkansas Economic Development Commission a global perspective, it just might be Maria Luisa M. Haley, who was asked by Gov. Mike Beebe in January to be executive director of the agency.

She also has the backing of the Legislature, which during its recent session gave her more tools and money than any of her predecessors at the agency, whose name has been changed back from the Arkansas Department of Economic Development.

Thinking that foreign companies will be generating more jobs in the future, Haley said, she wants to "establish an international staff" that will focus first on Asian nations such as Japan, China and India. She's not talking about establishing offices overseas; instead, she hopes to hire experts on those target nations and their languages by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Haley is, of course, very familiar with Asia. The daughter of a Philippine diplomat, Haley was born in the Philippines and grew up in Asia and Europe before coming to the United States.

And Haley is familiar with the AEDC, having worked for the agency from 1979 to 1992 in various capacities, such as international marketing consultant, director of international and national marketing and director of communications. She also was in charge of the Arkansas overseas offices in Brussels, Tokyo and Taipei. She coordinated then-Gov. Bill Clinton's trade and investment mission overseas and was staff adviser to the governor on trade at the National Governors Association.

Later, when Clinton was president, she served on the board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank and made connections with business leaders throughout the world who were looking to do business in the United States.

Her background, then, makes it easy to see why she was Beebe's choice to take over the AEDC. Equally obvious is her love for her adopted home of Arkansas.

She had already bought a condo in Little Rock and was planning to retire -- she's 66 -- in the state when the governor called. At the time, she was working as senior director with Kissinger McLarty Associates of Washington, D.C., a partnership headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Clinton's former White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty. After telling Beebe that she would think about the offer, Haley said she went to McLarty for advice and he said, "When the governor of the state you love asks you to serve, it's very difficult to say no." And she didn't. "I wanted to come home and make a difference, get back into public service," Haley said. The Legislature was in session when she reported for duty in February, and much of what the governor was seeking from the Legislature concerned economic development and education.

"The governor's vision and my vision are very similar," Haley said. "He believes education and economic development and jobs go hand-in-hand, and that is exactly my vision."

Haley said her priority is to involve the AEDC much more in linking education and economic development. While that has been a goal for many years, she said she sees signs that foundations and the private sector as well as government are focusing more on the issue. "It makes me believe that major changes are beginning to happen faster," Haley said.

Around the State
The Railport Industrial Park at Marion has received a lot of ink over its futile quest for an auto assembly plant. In February it lost out for the second time on a Toyota Motor Corp. plant, which went instead to a site near Tupelo, Miss.

Haley said there are many positive things about the Marion site, but it's not the only place the AEDC is promoting.

"We've been extremely busy all over the state," she said. "Hopefully we'll land some. There are some really interesting things happening in the state."



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