Maria Haley: She's Putting Her Talents to Work for Arkansas

Maria Haley warmly greets a pair of visitors to her new office on the fourth floor of the state office building at 900 W. Capitol Ave. and guides them on a brief tour.

There's an excellent view of the state Capitol out her window, which is appropriate since as executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission she promotes Arkansas to companies throughout the world. What will be the Rockefeller Conference Room is in the process of being furnished and decorated, and, just outside, a balcony provides a wonderful space for lunch or perhaps a reception.

Also in the building that once served as Dillard's headquarters are the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority and the Arkansas State Library. The old building has been renovated and refurbished with sustainability and "thinking green" in mind and is on track to be LEED certified.

She describes AEDC's new home as simply "spectacular," and says being in the same building as the other agencies "really creates better collaboration and more efficiency."

Haley brings a wealth of experience to the position and a lifetime of collaborating on a global scale. Multicultural and multilingual, she was born in the Philippines, educated in India, Pakistan, France and Spain, and has run Arkansas offices in Brussels, Tokyo and Taipei.

She has worked in the White House in such positions as deputy assistant to the president in the Clinton administration; served as an adviser to President Gloria Arroyo and the Philippine government; and worked as senior director for Asia with Kissinger McLarty Associates, which is headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty.

Under Haley's guidance, AEDC and its more than 100 employees lead Arkansas' economic development efforts. She took time recently to answer questions about her work and her career.

How do you sell a company on Arkansas? 

"Work force, location and the cost of doing business are key selling points. We must stay focused and be aggressive, providing the company exactly the information it requests, not what we think it should have. But the most effective thing is to remain competitive during the early stages of the process and eventually get company officials to visit our state.

"Time and again we have seen attitudes and perceptions change once officials see Arkansas and experience it. The beauty, location, quality of life and our citizens do a tremendous job selling Arkansas. As with any business, relationships play a key role in the decision-making process, so we spend a lot of time establishing and strengthening business ties."

What is the career achievement of which you are the proudest?

"I live in the moment, and I am proudest of what I am accomplishing right now."

What are you proudest of having achieved in Arkansas in the arena of economic development?

"There are numerous things of which I am proud. First, I lead a very effective agency with dedicated and knowledgeable people. Second, because of the support Gov. Beebe and the state Legislature provides us and the business incentives we offer, the state has been successful in locating, retaining and expanding a diverse business portfolio that pays higher wages that will ultimately raise the per capita income of our people. I am also very proud to be an Arkansan because of my respect and admiration of the resiliency and work ethic of our people."

Is there a project that got away from Arkansas that you really regret?

"Yes, but I would rather not discuss it because of the nature of our business. Trust is very important in our profession. We keep our company and site consultant relationships alive even with the projects that go elsewhere. One never knows what future opportunities may come our way."

What's the secret to your success?

"I am determined and optimistic. I also focus on solutions, not problems. I believe in collaboration amongst state agencies, communities and businesses resulting in greater efficiencies and better service to our clients and the Arkansas taxpayers. I also am privileged to work for a governor who believes that education and economic development are inseparable and works tirelessly on these issues."

Between meetings, travel and speaking engagements, you have a very busy schedule. Do you have any time-management tips you can share with our readers?

"I have an excellent staff that helps to keep me organized. I work early and late evenings to keep up with my e-mails, and Sunday afternoons are devoted to reading documents, thinking and planning. I make time to be alone and to be with my family and friends who sustain me. I love to listen to music, read and take long walks."

What do you do for fun?

"Being with friends and enjoying fine wines and cheese and good conversation.  Oysters and martinis on Fridays after work, and cooking with friends in my pajamas. Walk the Big Dam Bridge, and listen to opera on my iPod."

What's your favorite destination outside of Arkansas?


Future plans?

"My future is now. I am very happy where I am. All my life, opportunities have always come when I least expect it."