- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson wants to hire Arkansas’ next economic development director in the same way that many state colleges lure their football and basketball coaches: by finding a way around government salary caps in an attempt to attract the best in the business.

Hutchinson on Monday announced a national search for a candidate who can attract global businesses to Arkansas. He said the person hired should make around $200,000 - around 40 percent more what is currently paid.

“We have received some inquiries nationally but it didn’t take long to recognize that we’re not going to be competitive where we are now to attract the type of candidate that we need,” Hutchinson said at a news conference.

Hutchinson announced last month he would not retain Grant Tennille, a Gov. Mike Beebe appointee who makes $139,706.11 per year. He wouldn’t criticize Tennille’s work but instead listed what he’d like to see next: someone with experience putting together packages to attract industry and an understanding of how global firms choose sites between states.

One criticism of Arkansas has been its lack of an already trained workforce, including a percentage of college graduates that’s among the lowest in the nation.

To address that issue, the new administration also named a director of Workforce Services - Daryl Bassett - while announcing that a new deputy economic development director - Danny Games - would aid in the search for his boss.

“A lot of people talk about this: that Arkansas doesn’t necessarily have the skilled workforce to bring some of these companies in,” Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said. “So you have to work on getting those workers the skills they need to take on some of these jobs.”

Hutchinson said the money Arkansas pays its economic development director pales compared to those in Alabama, Florida and Texas and that legislators must find a way to boost salaries, even if laws must be changed.

“I’ve spoken to both the legislative leaders … about the need to amend the law to allow the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation to provide a salary supplement to the currently taxpayer-designated salary,” Hutchinson said.

It’s a method currently used to hire coaches for teams at the state’s major schools. At the University of Arkansas, for instance, football coach Bret Bielema and basketball coach Mike Anderson are restricted to state salaries of $178,695. But private funds push their compensation over $3 million and $2 million, respectively.

“I suspect it would need to get in the $200,000 range” for an economic development director, said the governor-elect, who takes office Jan. 13.

Hutchinson said he has not targeted anyone for the job, saying it was wide open. His spokesman said raiding another state, however, would be a possibility.

“I don’t think it’s off-limits,” Davis said.

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