Recently our state received disturbing news that Kimberly Clark is considering closing its facility in Conway, putting the jobs of 350 people in jeopardy. It is important to know that the Arkansas Economic Development Commission is working with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to do everything in our power to keep those jobs in Arkansas.

We understand that these decisions are tough for businesses and that Kimberly Clark may ultimately choose to close the Conway plant. However, we are unrelenting, and we will work with Kimberly Clark to keep this facility open and keep these jobs in Conway.

That is our mission and our responsibility.

Let’s face it, this is more than just 350 jobs. Each job represents real people with real families to raise and real bills to pay.

Should Kimberly Clark close the Conway plant, we will work with its Maumelle facility to extend new lines, or partner with the Governor’s Displaced Workers Taskforce to help find new opportunities.

But why put our friends and neighbors in such a stressful situation if we don’t have to? To that end, we are putting together an aggressive package to assist Kimberly Clark in keeping the Conway plant open, as well as working to grow their neighboring facility in Maumelle. Governor Hutchinson has had, and will continue to have, discussions with Kimberly Clark executives to encourage them to keep the Conway plant open.

Contrary to recent criticism on the use of incentives, neither the Arkansas Economic Development Commission nor Governor Hutchinson will ever make a business decision without doing a great deal of research. The result must positively impact Arkansas taxpayers and the state.

If an incentive package is offered to a business, it is carefully evaluated to ensure a positive cost-benefit to taxpayers. Arkansas’ incentives are performance-based, which means companies are required to employ a specific number of people at a certain wage for a designated amount of time. If the company does not meet and maintain these numbers, it doesn’t receive incentives. It is a win-win for businesses and taxpayers.

Some people believe that the state should not offer incentives for companies to stay. We disagree. Our incentives program is an important tool in competing with other states and global economies for business. Trying to compete in economic development minus incentives would be akin to the old idiom of “bringing pennies to a high-stake poker match.” We have to operate on a level playing field.

Be assured, we do not offer incentive packages that are not economically viable to the state. It makes no business sense for us to give money if we don’t see a return on our investment.

The aim of the state is to retain, protect and grow our existing businesses first and foremost. An overwhelming amount of growth and jobs in the state is attributed to those businesses who are already here. Kimberly Clark has been in Arkansas for more than half a century. During that time, it has invested heavily in the community and the state. Its largest customer is Walmart, and staying in Arkansas near such a valued customer benefits everyone involved.

We refuse to sit idly by and watch 350 Arkansans lose good jobs if there is something we can do to keep our fellow citizens employed and contributing to our economy. It’s not fair to our workers, and it’s not fair to our taxpayers.

In business it’s said, “It’s much easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one.” For economic development that mantra holds true – we must protect and grow our existing companies and then look for ways to attract new ones. An overwhelming amount of growth and jobs in the state is attributed to those businesses who are already here. In fact, the largest division at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission is our Existing Business Resource Division.

Keeping existing jobs in Arkansas simply makes good economic sense for all Arkansans.