Investigation Needed: Botched $15 Million Business Reopening Grant

Rural Arkansas & Small Businesses Left Behind

LITTLE ROCK — Governor Asa Hutchinson acknowledged in his daily press briefing on April 30, that the $15 million Arkansas Ready for Business grant program was “rolled out prematurely,” with only select groups having knowledge, and without having the legally required legislative approval. While no money has changed hands yet, this very practice may warrant further review from the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s Public Integrity Division and the Pulaski County’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The $15 million fund was exhausted within just 30 minutes of the online application process going online.
“This behavior is unethical at best and criminal at worst. It’s entirely unfair of the governor’s administration and Commerce Secretary Mike Preston to give their friends and big companies with lobbyists easy access, while small businesses, especially in rural Arkansas, were left scrambling,” said DPA Chairman Michael John Gray. “To make matters worse, the governor prematurely opened this grant program up, without even getting the legally required legislative approval. That’s a blatant disregard for the legislative process and a disrespect to voters.
“This fiasco has revealed that this process, even if it had been carried out as intended, is stacked against small business owners who don’t have a CPA or lobbyist at their fingertips to fill out a surprise grant announcement in the first hour of its opening. It’s part of a pattern of the governor and the state’s economic team focusing on only select voices from Pulaski County and northwest Arkansas. 
“The cost of that decision is higher than ever in minority communities and small town Arkansas. Hair salons, restaurants, and shops closed by the governor still aren’t really being heard. And their elected officials, especially rural legislators, don’t have much of a seat at the table anymore. That needs to change.”