Speaking of job growth in Pulaski County: I learned this morning of a delay in an economic project announced last year, a foreign gunmaker’s location at the Little Rock Port.
Last April, CZ-USA, a subsidiary of a Czech firm, announced plans to build a gun factory, distribution center and U.S. headquarters at the port that would employ 565 people in six years. In a deal put together by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the company was given 73 acres at the port, worth $1.7 million, to build the factory. It said it would invest $90 million.
Last April, state officials said construction would begin immediately with an initial startup of phased-in construction in March 2020.
A spokesman for the port confirmed construction has not begun. He said leadership changes at CZ might have been a factor, but added that a team was in Little Rock working on architectural plans. He said the port remained confident that the project was moving forward. He noted that this deal came with a “clawback,” provision. If the project doesn’t materialize, the free land reverts to the port.
I have made a request for a status report from CZ-USA, which is in Kansas City, Kan., and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. In addition to free land, the state committed to infrastructure improvements along with the usual cash subsidies that accompany job-creating projects.
The governor has pushed to sell Arkansas as a place for the gun industry. The push has come, coincidentally, at a time of reports of slumping gun sales.
Barack Obama’s administration was a boon to gun sales.
ALSO: Financing apparently has been an issue. It appears some investors are reluctant to underwrite gun ventures.
UPDATE: I got this prepared response from Mike Preston, Arkansas’s commerce secretary, who’s bonused for economic development deals he’s landed such as this:
“The project is moving forward and ground breaking is planned for later this year. The company is in the midst of an IPO in the Czech Republic, and the capital raised is part of the funding for the USA headquarters expansion in Little Rock.”
Does anyone else think it unusual that a deal announced a year ago is now seeking public finance in the Czech Republic for a deal that was supposed to be up and running next month? Does the state do due diligence on finances of prospects to which it it hands out subsidies and free land. I’m reminded again of the $26 million Preston pumped into a Riverdale office building purchase for an industrial prospect that didn’t materialize. The state has covered that purchase by moving a bunch of state agencies in there, but vacating a number of other buildings.
UPDATE II: I heard Tuesday from CZ-USA:
We are committed to Little Rock as the future home of CZ-USA. The investment plan continues. The preparatory work on the project currently focuses primarily on the selection of optimal technologies and preparation of production, while at the same time creating an appropriate funding framework.
Work on the actual construction of the facility is planned for the second half of this year, according to the current schedule. CZ is continuously informing our Arkansas partners about the development of the project.