Little Rock Regional Chamber President and CEO Jay Chesshir is known for his leadership in navigating the economic growth and development of the capital city through times of calm and times of crisis. We recently sat down with him to talk about the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s stand on diversity, the pandemic, and Little Rock’s economic future, which we shared in the first half of the interview. In this second blog, Chesshir shares his thoughts on recent Amazon announcements and the work that goes into economic development projects.
Q: The recent announcements about Amazon and the Arcturus Aerospace are a great case for the strength of Little Rock’s economic development efforts, but the urgency of COVID-19 news has taken a front seat, and people may have missed the good news. Why are the Amazon and Arcturus developments so good for our city?
A: Amazon and Arcturus are great examples of great economic development news in Little Rock. The very first meeting we had with Amazon representatives was in September of 2014, so it took almost six years to make an actual decision to locate their first facility in Arkansas. You look at the Amazon project and have to realistically consider that we may not have exactly what Amazon needs for a headquarters. But look at all of the things that we do have, and how we utilized the Amazon “Love Little Rock” campaign to show other businesses our assets. We could never have paid for the advertising value the “Love, Little Rock” campaign generated. Because of a very well-crafted campaign, we received over $3 million in ad value. Hats off to Stone Ward for creating it, and to the group of people who were trying to decide if we qualified for headquarters or if we should try something different to ensure Little Rock was part of the conversation.
Q: What kind of planning goes into starting and then successfully maintaining these large scale economic development projects?
A: Economic development can be an extremely long term effort, like with Amazon, or you can have a situation like Arcturus Aerospace. Arcturus Aerospace made the decision to come to Little Rock in a matter of months due to some specific factors they were considering when contemplating a move. Some economic development projects are years in the making. Some are months in the making. The reality is, you have to have a group of people out there marketing the community and the region, working with companies and site location consultants to highlight and leverage our assets, and working with local, state, and federal elected officials to create the infrastructure, product and place needed to attract new company investment.
Q: What might you say to those who are excited about the creation of jobs generated by these investments and want to make sure our state stays on the radar?
A: And the new employment that comes with those potential investments? Without a group of people constantly working on securing those potential investments, they will go somewhere else.
For some unknown reason, we Arkansans sometimes have an inferiority complex and think others outside of our state think less of us. In reality, they’re not even thinking about us unless we give them a reason to. So, how do we use branding and marketing to give them a reason to think of us? How do we use the advantages of our diverse economy and our outstanding entrepreneurial community? If you have a group of people, and a mix of public and private partnerships working together toward that same goal then you’re going to be successful in making people think of you.
Q: What do you see for the future of Little Rock’s economic development?
A: Economic development isn’t like a light switch. You can’t turn it on and turn it off and expect to get results immediately after turning it back on. I think the future of Metro Little Rock is extremely bright because we’re working with our friends in the financial sector trying to make it stronger and trying to make Little Rock a place where the new emerges from, as it has in the past. We’re looking at advanced manufacturing, we’re looking at international investment, all of these things, and we continue to educate our people so we can continue to compete in this marketplace.
We’re extremely grateful for Jay Chesshir’s leadership in Little Rock and at The Venture Center. To get involved with The Venture Center, visit www.venturecenter.co.