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After years of losing major projects to other states, Arkansas finally landed a legitimate super project with this month's legislative approval of the $1.1 billion Big River Steel mill near Osceola.
After Mississippi landed its first auto plant, built by Nissan Corp. in 2000, Arkansas was left as the only state among at least Louis Vuitton Belt Original
The state changed its offer after Nucor Corp. lobbied against the plant being built in Arkansas, Chitwood said. Nucor also lobbied against Correnti's plant this year.
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Amendment 82 to the state's constitution limits Arkansas' incentives to 5 percent of the state's net general revenue, which was almost $4.8 billion last year. That meant about $240 million was available in incentives.
In 2003 and 2007, Arkansas finished second in a duel for two Toyota Corp. auto manufacturing plants. In 2003, Toyota selected San Antonio over Marion, as the site for a $750 million Toyota Tundra plant with 4,000 workers.
The project is being led by steel magnate John Correnti who said the mill will employ 525 workers earning an average of $75,000 annually in salaries and bonuses. That would make Big River Steel one of the highest paying employers in the state, along with Nucor Corp., which also has steel mills in Mississippi County.
If developers of another major project consider locating in Arkansas, the state could seek Amendment 82 funding, Holmes said.
Since then, Oklahoma lost its only auto plant when General Motors closed its facility in Oklahoma City.
The plant will make flat rolled Ferragamo Belt Yellow steel, with about a third of it for electrical steel used in transformers, and light steel used in automobile manufacturing.
But Chitwood, as well as other Arkansas economic development officials who sought anonymity, say Arkansas changed its original offers to Correnti.
In 2007, Toyota chose a site near Tupelo, Miss., over the same Marion location it rejected in 2003 for a plant that now employs about 2,000. The economy forced Toyota to delay production at the plant until 2011.
"We can be competitive on [Big River Steel], but on a new car factory, we can't,"said Clif Chitwood, economic development director in Mississippi County.
It was the last plant Toyota has built, although the company said this month it will expand its Georgetown, Ky., plant and begin building Lexus sedans in 2015. The expansion will add 750 jobs at the massive facility where Toyota already employs about 6,000.
Arkansas has committed $125 million in incentives from bonds for the Big River mill, leaving about $115 million for future projects.
"I don't recall that," Huckabee said in an interview before a recent speech in Conway. "It was our attitude that we go after every business possible."
San Antonio offered only $133 million in incentives to Toyota, which often accepts lower pay packages. Toyota said it chose the Texas city for marketing reasons, primarily because more trucks are sold in Texas than any other state.
The official reason was that Correnti couldn't get an inexpensive electricity contract in Arkansas.
Should the project require more than the 5 percent limit, when combined with Big River's incentives, "it would be impossible" for the state to provide incentives, Holmes said.
But landing of a similar super project soon is not likely because of the state's constitutional limit on the dollar amount of economic development incentives allowed at any one time, officials said.
"Or it would take a big change in the law to raise that limit," Holmes said.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee disagreed with claims that Nucor caused the state to change offers to Correnti.
Mississippi offered Toyota $296 million in incentives for the Toyota plant in 2007. At the time, Arkansas offered about $200 million for the plant, where Corollas are assembled.
After landing steel mill
The state made commitments to Correnti in the early stages of negotiations that later were withdrawn, Chitwood said.
Arkansas' $125 million in incentives will be raised through general obligation bonds, with $50 million being used for a 4 year loan to Big River.
incentives, attracting an auto assembly plant now in Arkansas is almost impossible, officials say.
Arkansas missed out on another major project in 2007. Osceola finished third for a $2.9 billion, 2,700 employee Thyssen Krupp AG steel plant that went to Mobile, Ala. The economy has caused Thyssen Krupp to seek buyers this year for the plant.
The amendment was proposed in the 2003 regular session and approved by voters in 2004. Voters approved an amendment in 2010 that removed limitations on the amount of money $500 million that had to be invested in the project and the number of employees required, 500.
"Regardless, Mr. Correnti did not receive the support he was expecting from the [state]," Chitwood said. "But [Mississippi Gov.] Haley Barbour was more than happy to supply that support and now that plant employs between 700 and 900 people in Columbus, Miss. It was a terrible loss for Arkansas, as so many have been over the past decade."
"The reality is there are not a lot of projects out there floating around that are this size and that would take this much investment," Joe Holmes, a spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said about the $125 million invested in Big River Steel. "This was the first one in almost 10 years since Amendment 82 was brought to the Legislature. And we don't have any standing in the Hermes Belts Black
10 surrounding and nearby states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, without an auto manufacturing plant.
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