We Can't Tell What We Don't Know (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Jun. 10, 2013 12:00 am  

On May 20, state Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, tweeted a link to an item on the National Rifle Association blog about a $32 million expansion of the Remington Arms Co. plant at Lonoke.

Some conservative political operatives noted that Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration hadn’t held the typical press conference to announce this sizable investment in Arkansas and immediately leapt to the conclusion that the Democratic governor was not enthusiastic about the particular type of economic development.

“Anyone notice the silence from one side of the aisle over significant expansion by @Remington in Arkansas? Hmm…,” tweeted Ryan James.

“Sad this isn’t as important to Gov as a foreign windmill blade company,” tweeted Carlton Saffa.

Bell took it a step further. “Private job growth that doesn’t require govt. incentives & involves guns/ammo just isn’t all that interesting to some,” he wrote.

Now, I didn’t notice any of this at the time because I was busy with the biggest story on May 20: state Treasurer Martha Shoffner’s first appearance in federal court after her arrest two days earlier. I’m not sure how anyone who is gainfully employed can keep up with Twitter, even though I have collected more than 1,500 Twitter followers of my own. But Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times blog noticed something, because he posted one sentence about it and linked to the same NRA blog posting as Bell.

At some point, our online editor, Lance Turner, also noticed the Twitter traffic about it and asked me if I had heard anything about an expansion at Remington. I had not, even though that’s the very sort of thing we want to report in Arkansas Business.

I searched my email inbox for some overlooked press release to no avail. Then I started Googling and, sure enough, found on Remington’s website a bare-bones announcement of the expansion, including a new building, that is to begin in the second quarter of 2013 and be in operation by the second quarter of 2014.

The announcement was dated May 9. It had been picked up within a couple of days by a few firearm-specific trade journals — and by the NRA more than a week before Rep. Bell spread the word.

I called and emailed the person identified as the media contact on the Remington Arms website. I also called Joe Holmes, spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, to ask why the state had made no announcement. And I called the plant at Lonoke, where I was advised to call the same corporate flack I had already tried to reach.

I began writing an item for ArkansasBusiness.com based entirely on the announcement on the Remington website. Then Holmes called me back and explained that AEDC and the Governor’s Office had been working closely with Remington on a package of economic incentives for the expansion, including tax incentives and nearly half a million dollars in cash from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund. (So much for Bell’s assumption that Remington represented job growth without corporate welfare.)

But even the AEDC had not known that Remington posted the announcement online until long after the fact, Holmes told me. Which explains AEDC Director Grant Tennille’s May 20 tweet — “Shoot first and ask questions later? AEDC and Governor participated, Rem. will announce on their timetable” — 11 days after Remington had posted its announcement online.

“We’d love to make a big deal; we’d love to make an announcement about it,” Holmes told me. “But this was their call to do it this way.”

We reported what we could in our midday Daily Report e-newsletter on May 21. But as of this writing, more than two weeks have passed and I still haven’t heard back from Remington’s PR team, so I have to conclude that a 207-word announcement is all Remington cares to share with the public.

Remington revealed the $32 million price tag but gave no details at all on the size of the new building or the amount of “job growth” anticipated. Remington didn’t mention the tax incentives and taxpayer cash that are part of the plan. It seems to me that the company rather than the government has tried to keep this news as low-key as possible.

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One lesson I want readers to remember: If you wonder why we — or other news organizations — haven’t reported something that clearly seems newsworthy, the most likely answer is we don’t know about it. There are limits to the manpower available, so there are stories we do know about and would like to cover but haven’t been able to move to the top of the priority list. But we can’t report what we don’t know.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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