The flying mayor | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The flying mayor

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2009 at 11:00 AM

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City spokeswoman Meg Matthews sends in a few notes from Mayor Mark Stodola about his Chamber of Commerce-financed trip to Paris along with Gov. Mike Beebe's European expedtionary force.

Mayor Stodola wants me to clarify a couple of points. First, he’s not going to Hamburg or any other European destinations. He’s only going to France specifically to talk to Dassault Falcon Jet about their future here in Little Rock. He says their workforce of roughly 2,000 is important to Little Rock and hopes to convince them not only to maintain their presence here, but also to expand. The mayor wanted to tell them about extensions of 6th and 9th Streets as well as other developments that they would find appealing.
 
Also, the mayor’s last minute decision to go can be further put into context when you take into consideration his wife’s recent back surgery. The mayor wasn’t sure if she would feel recovered enough for him to leave the country. At the last minute (he’d even purchased cancellation insurance)  Mr. and Mrs. Stodola decided she was stable and that’s when his decision to go to France on behalf of Little Rock was made.

Same song, umpteenth verse: I remain somewhat skeptical about the value of last-minute public official junkets abroad to visit with multinational corporations that weigh an accumulation of complex factors on industrial siting decisions. But let us accept that such a trip is high value.  If so, then government should pay for it as a legitimate business expense, not a special interest group that might expect future favors in return for its past generosity. Expenses -- plane fare, hotel, meals, etc. -- should be fully disclosed. At least Mayor Stodola didn't need to take bodyguards along with him, as the governor did. (Yes, I know. Beebe, like governors before him, blames the State Police for all decisions related to gubernatorial security details. To which I say: It's a pretty weak chief executive who can't tell an agency he controls to stand down.)

UPDATE: Find out more about Beebe's trip on the jump, including details on talks with Dassault, Loreal, Unilever, Amfuel and Nordex.  Plus, how much does the whole thing cost? (Photo shows Mayor Stodola; Guy Piras - Executive Vice-President of Industrial Operations,  Dassault Falcon; Governor Beebe; Jay Chesshir – Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce; Becky Thompson – Arkansas Economic Development Commission)

The governor spoke with reporters by phone this morning and gave an update on his world travels before taking questions.  So far Gov. Beebe has visited companies in London and Paris.  While in London, Beebe met with a bio-mass company that he said was a "major player" in alternative fuels.  The governor would not disclose the name of the company but said they had had preliminary talks and had established a relationship.  "We're competing with a whole lot of other places," Beebe said, "but there may be plenty to go around."  

The governor also spoke with the head of Unilever, a Skippy peanut butter manufacturer here in Little Rock to talk about their needs, problems and a possible expansion.  "They're not going anywhere," he said. 

After London, Beebe took the train to Paris where he met with Zodiac Aerospace, also known as Amfuel in Magnolia, Ark.  The company manufactures fuel cells and other aviation equipment for jets.  Beebe said the company was concerned because they were having difficulties recruiting highly-educated candidates to fill high-level management positions within the company. 

The governor said this was a problem in all of rural Arkansas, not just Magnolia because when kids graduate from college they want to go live in the big city.  The company plans to work with Southern Arkansas University and other schools across the state to establish internships to help recruit qualified candidates.  Beebe said the company was looking to expand their operations as long as their needs are met and stressed that "We're not going to lose them."  

The governor also met with Loreal, which owns the Maybelline plant in North Little Rock.  Maybelline has made a huge commitment to energy efficiency, something they would like to continue.  The governor said it was a possibility that federal stimulus money could be directed toward the project. 

"We usually don't like to spend stimulus funds on existing facilities, but if it's something that will save some money in the long-run and put people to work, then that's what the stimulus funds are all about," Beebe said. 

Like Stodola, Beebe also met with Dassault Falcon Jet.  He said the company was very pleased with the workers they have and did not want to fire or lay-off any more.  He said if any cost-saving measures were taken in the future regarding personnel, it would likely be in the form of a cutback in hours, not jobs. 

Beebe is scheduled to meet with Nordex in Germany, a wind-turbine company that recently broke ground in Jonesboro, about the possibility of some of the company's suppliers setting up shop in Arkansas as well.  The governor will give a press conference at the capitol to discuss further details when he returns to the state. 

So, what does all this international good will cost?  Well, according to the governor's office, here's the breakdown:

Airfare:  $13,940.89

Hotel:  $26, 408.03

Events:  $7,088.00

Transportation, meals, misc.:  $31,706

Total State Funds Estimate:  $79,142.92

Private foundation expenses cap of:  $15,000

Total Funds Estimate:  $94,142.92

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission has hired Sybille Magee of Belgium to provide planning and on-site advance coordination for the trip.  She will continue to help with marketing in Europe for the rest of the year.  The price of her contract is $5,000 with a cap on expenses of $15,000. 

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