Quality of life and a free press | Arkansas Blog

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quality of life and a free press

Posted By on Fri, Jun 20, 2008 at 1:31 PM

I just happened to check the Conway Log Cabin Democrat's coverage of the Hewlett Packard announcement yesterday. Interesting tidbits:

City officials say a billboard ordinance and design standards that had been opposed by some residents -- along with a reviving downtown -- were among the things that attracted HP to Conway. I hope The Iconoclast sees this. His life's work includes dogging Springdale for its devotion to billboards and general uglification. Now, I understand that the Conway officials who backed these measures WOULD claim that they were essential to attracting a new industry. And having been given a huge serving of corporate welfare, I don't think H-P officials are likely to bite the hands feeding them. Still, I do think aesthetics matter and good for Conway on these points. Little Rock caved to the billboard lobby long ago. Design overlay districts have come and gone here, generally leaving ugly jumbles of mixed uses.

However, I would like to call B.S. on something Maria Haley, head of the state's economic development agency, told The Cabin.

The four-month courtship of HP "would have been sort of perfect," Haley said, had one state business magazine not published details of the deal three days prior to the official announcement. By disclosing this information, which had been closely guarded for months, Haley said the publication jeopardized one of the most exciting deals in recent state history.

"I was very stressed with the fact that there were a lot of people who spoke anonymously about this project and that some of the press was very eager to report it before the announcement," Haley said. "I find that extremely irresponsible. This should be a case study of how not to handle a project. It's very disappointing.

"All the people who knew about the project did not comment: Hewlett-Packard had no comment, the Governor had no comment, we had no comment and the CDC had no comment; and that should have been a signal."

Haley refers to Arkansas Business, first out of the box Monday with the rapidly circulating whispers about this development. Good on them. It's a newspaper's responsibility to report news, not meekly serve as an adjunct of the Chamber of Commerce. It is irresponsible NOT to report news. More reporting might result in states being held up less by industry extortionists.

It is also pure hokum to say a three-day jump on the news could have prompted the company to pull up stakes and go elsewhere. This deal didn't turn on the guarantee of a surprise announcement Thursday. It turned on cheap and acceptable labor, location, Conway's sufficient insulation from the perceived ills of urban areas and $50 million or more in handouts. Not to mention groveling state officials. No need for the press to grovel, too. If the price of economic development is a government-controlled press, the price is too damn high.

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