The Arkansas Economic Development Commission is doing everything within its power to encourage global company Kimberly-Clark Corp to keep the Conway facility open.
The Log Cabin Democrat spoke with Mike Preston, AEDC’s executive director, on Friday.
Preston said they are working with other state officials including Gov. Asa Hutchinson to put together an intensive incentives package to help sway the company to keep the location, which has been in Conway since 1970, and its 350 employees.
Preston said the steps they’re taking come on the cusp of the Dallas-based paper products company’s January announcement about a company-wide restructuring announcement.
During that time, Kimberly-Clark representatives did not give any confirmation about which branches were closing but it was revealed recently that that was being considered, according to conversations between the company and Conway Area Chamber of Commerce’s Jamie Gates.
Gates told the LCD this week that they had been in conversation with the company since the January announcement.
He said due to talks about the company initially planning to close a site in Wisconsin, a type of sister mill to Conway and because there was no news about the Conway facility, the chamber took that as a positive sign, which was why it was a surprise to them when they learned about the shutdown possibility.
When the LCD spoke with Preston on Friday, he also revealed that they were surprised to hear that news as well.
Preston gave the LCD a little bit of backstory about what’s currently going on with the issue.
As of right now, Wisconsin is also putting together an incentives package for the company, pushed and backed by Gov. Scott Walker in February 2018.
According to an article from the Associated Press, as of July 24, the company said it’s open to negotiating state incentives to save at least one of two facilities from closure.
Preston said the Wisconsin package hits around $100,000,000 but was also hinging in part on labor discussions between the Cold Spring facility and the United Steelworkers Local 2-482.
Arkansas, he said, doesn’t have a union, so that was working for us, but Monday night, that agreement between the two was ratified.
Preston said, now, they’re waiting to see what happens at the state level.
“We have reached out repeatedly to Kimberly Clark,” he said. “[We] already made it clear to Kimberly Clark that we would be offering an incentive [plan] ourselves.”
While he could not reveal plan specifics because they’re still in the works — what would make sense to the company and the state’s taxpayers — Preston did say Arkansas’ deal would not be “in the neighborhood,” of Wisconsin’s $100,000,000.
“That would be to me, beyond what we are capable of doing,” he said.
Whatever the decision, he said, Arkansas supports these 350 workers in Conway and wants to insure they have a job when this all plays out and are using all the tools and resources they have to protect that and officials will come up with a way to help those workers moving forward should it get to that point.
Preston said they have reached out to Conway and have heard concern from branch workers and let them know that Arkansas is doing what it can but beyond that, the decision is out of its control.
“We want to make sure the employees know, we as a state, support them and will continue to fight for them,” he said.
Preston said the timeline keeps shifting — Wisconsin legislation still has to approve the deal in the first place — and it could be days, weeks or months before they know what the final decision is.