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Senators quiz state leaders on Big River Steel superproject

Arkansas economic and finance leaders fielded more than two-and-a-half hours of questions from the Arkansas State Senate on the state’s recruiting of a $1.1 billion Big River Steel Mill superproject to Osceola.
Arkansas economic and finance leaders fielded more than two-and-a-half hours of questions from the Arkansas State Senate on the state’s recruiting of a $1.1 billion Big River Steel Mill superproject to Osceola.

Gov. Mike Beebe (D) announced the major industrial project – the largest of his administration – last week. It is expected to create 525 high-paying jobs and could require the state to obligate itself to $125 million in bonds to support getting the project off the ground.

Legislators must agree to the bond issue, or an alternative financing of the deal, to move the project forward. The state’s Amendment 82 allows for the Arkansas legislature to use general obligation bonds for major economic development projects.

On Monday, Senators met in a “committee-of-the-whole,” a rarely used conference where all 35 State Senators come together as a “committee” to ask questions regarding state policy. The Arkansas House of Representatives will replicate the forum on Wednesday.

Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Grant Tennille, Arkansas Development Finance Authority Director Mac Dodson, and Department of Finance and Administration Director Richard Weiss, as well as staff members of those agencies, Delta Trust and Bank CEO French Hill, and Arkansas Teacher Retirement System Director George Hopkins also took part in the Q&A panel.

Senators asked a variety of questions about the mega-deal, including how safeguarded the state may be if the factory does not come to fruition or reach its potential.

“We may have the strongest clawback provisions we’ve ever employed,” said AEDC Director Grant Tennille. He outlined how in many instances the investors in the Big River Steel Mill must put their own money up first or in tandem, as well as meet certain payroll, hiring and infrastructure investment thresholds.

“We have done everything we know how to do to try to ensure the safety of taxpayers’ dollars,” Tennille said.

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