Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday announced Mike Preston as the new executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Preston previously served as director of government relations for Enterprise Florida, where he helped create more than 147,000 jobs generating more than $10 billion in capital investment, according to a news release from Hutchinson's office.
Preston is a 2005 graduate of the University of Florida, a former chief of staff to a Florida state senator and a legislative assistant to a state representative.
"Mike Preston is a perfect fit to lead the Arkansas Economic Development Commission," Hutchinson said in a statement. "As vice president for government affairs at Enterprise Florida, Michael has years of statewide economic development and business expertise and experience working with a state Legislature and governor. He’s a proven leader with an impressive track record of bringing in capital investment from major companies.
"Having worked in a highly competitive atmosphere, Michael understands what it takes to position a state to be a leader in job creation. I cannot wait to see what his experience, expertise and vision can do for Arkansas."
Hutchinson said the search for a new AEDC director focused on the southeast United States, but there were also candidates from Wyoming and Indiana. He said Preston has energy, experience and a vision for economic development.
Hutchinson cited three projects Preston helped bring to Florida, including:
- the Hertz corporate headquarters, which brought 700 jobs and $68.7 million in capital investment
- a Northrop Grumman manufacturing Center of Excellence with 1,800 jobs and $500 million in capital investment
- and an expansion of the Navy Federal Credit Union, bringing 5,000 jobs and $350 million in capital investment.
"I look forward to using my economic-development experience and management skills to implement Gov. Hutchinson's plan to make Arkansas more competitive and create more jobs," Preston said in a statement. "I've been fortunate to work with a great team in Florida, and I'm very proud of the work we've done in the Sunshine State.
"But I'm eager to put my experience, background and vision to work for Arkansas, which has so much to offer and so much potential. I'm honored to be given this incredible opportunity and excited to get started," he said.
Preston said he would begin his job by working with and listening to local economic development organizations throughout the state.
"I think Arkansas can be competitive with any state in the country," he said.
Reporters asked Hutchinson to weigh in on a religious protection measure that opponents have said would open the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. Questions centered on whether the bill, HB1228, would make it difficult to recruit companies to Arkansas.
Hutchinson said said he thinks the bill balances concerns about protecting religious beliefs and worries about discrimination.
Also on Thursday, Hutchinson said Danny Games will remain on staff as deputy director. Games had been interim director of AEDC.
(With reporting by Lance Turner.)