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Arkansas’ economic development chief gets third $50,000+ bonus in three years

Posted on May 30, 2018

Arkansas' economic development chief gets third $50,000+ bonus in three years

By Michael R. Wickline

Posted: May 30, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

For the third-consecutive year, the state's economic development director, Mike Preston, has received a bonus of more than $50,000 in private funds from the nonprofit Arkansas Industrial and Economic Development Foundation at the recommendation of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Preston, who previously was an executive with Florida's principal economic development organization, has been the Arkansas Economic Development Commission's executive director since April 2015. He started work in Arkansas with an annual base salary of $167,706, with the state paying most of the base salary and the foundation paying for the rest. Preston also has been eligible, after each year of employment, for a performance-based bonus of up to 30 percent of his base salary paid by the foundation.

Gus Vratsinas, chairman of the Arkansas Industrial and Economic Development Foundation, said Tuesday that the foundation paid Preston the maximum bonus of $54,000 on Friday based on his current base salary of $180,000.

The foundation paid the maximum possible bonus of $50,311.80 in both May 2016 and May 2017 to Preston, based on his base salary of $167,706, state officials said at those times.

[DATABASE: Search salaries of state employees]

"We are just pleased we have someone of his caliber leading our economic development efforts," Vratsinas said. "The people who are active in the economic development arena are pleased with what he does."

Preston's state-paid salary increased from $141,103 to $149,862 last year in line with the implementation of the state's new pay plan for employees. Preston received a salary supplement from the foundation that was increased from $28,000 to $30,138, said Hutchinson's spokesman, J.R. Davis.

Hutchinson said in a letter dated Friday to Vratsinas that he had conducted his annual performance review of Preston, and "it is my recommendation that he be awarded the full bonus of $54,000.00."

The governor cited 26 accomplishments, which the governor called "a partial list of accomplishments" of the agency under Preston's leadership in the past year.

"For calendar year 2017, won 125 competitive projects resulting in signed incentive agreements which yielded 3,225 new jobs with a $21.77 proposed hourly wage and a capital investment of $3,160,141,725," according to the letter.

"Since 2015, the total number of competitive projects won is now 331, bringing in more than $7 billion in new capital investment and 12,500 new jobs," Hutchinson wrote in his letter.

The accomplishments listed by Hutchinson in his letter included that he awarded 299 grants totaling $11.97 million; introduced the Competitive Communities Initiative to support local communities' efforts to become better prepared for economic development projects; and "negotiated with HBO to have the third season of True Detective filmed in Arkansas."

Hutchinson wrote that he worked closely with Preston this past year and conducted multiple recruitment trips overseas, held scores of business recruitment meetings, and attended numerous community engagements focused on economic development.

"He has poured himself into Arkansas and has gone the extra mile every day to assure that our state is an economic engine for growth and increased opportunities for Arkansans. Without hesitation, I recommend the bonus be approved and paid as soon as possible," the Republican governor said in his letter to Vratsinas.

A number of states, particularly in the South, maintain employment contracts with state economic development directors that include additional private funds in the director's overall salary, state officials have said.

Vratsinas has said that the foundation helps the state be competitive with the salary for the economic development director, just like the Razorback Foundation has helped compensate coaches of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Metro on 05/30/2018