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Colonel Harrington leads the charge; after braving bullets in Southeast Asian jungles, can directing the AIDC be any more dangerous?

Colonel Harrington Leads The Charge

After Braving Bullets In Southeast Asian Jungles, Can Directing The AIDC Be Any More Dangerous?

At the height of the conflict in Vietnam, Dave Harrington, a captain in the Green Berets, spent a year leading patrols along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. His mission was to train Montagnard tribe members and destroy North Vietnamese supply lines.

Today, 21 years after ending his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he no longer wakes up from a troubled sleep on a muddy, buggy forest floor, wondering if he would be wounded, captured or killed that day.

A total of two years in Vietnam out of 22 years in the Army gave him a perspective on life, such that few things could be more harrowing.

Facing difficult tasks as executive director of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, Harrington, 51, a retired lieutenant colonel, maintains his calm outward demeanor, sense of purpose and loyalty to his native state.

Ramrod straight and trim, like his military days, he carries out his agency's legislative mission "to enhance the economic climate of Arkansas by increasing employment opportunities for its residents."

His staffers describe him as good-natured and one to wander into their offices occasionally. He is organized and his directives are clear, but he gives subordinates freedom to be creative.

His brow is furrowed and wrinkles emanate from his eyes. His intense gaze is softened by grey-blue eyes.

Contrasting with industrial recruiters who gladhand and make a name for themselves as charismatic speakers, Harrington prefers to work behind the scenes. Posing for a photograph is not enjoyable.

He answers all of a journalist's questions directly, enthusiastically -- offering to supply documentation where necessary. He exudes a no-nonsense attitude, but he puts his questioner at ease, smiling now and then. Goals are important to Harrington, and small talk about himself does not come up easily in the conversation.

Among topics discussed is the controversy over the agency's file for Tokusen U.S.A. Inc., a Japanese-owned company which announced in October it will spend $35 million to build a steel cord factory in Conway to employ 135.

It was alleged, but never proven that Tokusen officials wanted to avoid locating in areas with large concentrations of blacks.

Debate over release of the file led to a new state law, which sped through the General Assembly, further shutting off public access to department files concerning company location decisions.

In the process, Harrington endured racial discrimination allegations leveled by state Reps. Ben McGee of Marion (Crittenden County) and Bill Walker Jr. of Little Rock. One of the main charges was that the agency has a poor record of bringing industry to counties with a significant black population.

In the legislative fight surrounding it, Harrington was the point man, dutifully drawing much of the fire.

He says most of the AIDC's files are open for review, but he must keep confidential certain files containing information considered proprietary by companies. The AIDC is given the information to better help it find a plant location, and Harrington says opening the files would irreparably damage trust between company officials and the industry recruiting agency.

The law enacted this past year stated that nothing from a company's AIDC file would be disclosed unless the firm gave its permission. Since it was put into effect, he says he has been able to reassure companies that their information is safe with the agency.

Journalists say they are not interested in trade secrets, but in what draws companies to particular areas of the state.

WHILE HARRINGTON SAYS companies have never raised the issue of race, community profiles provided by the AIDC had contained the percent white population of an area. The figure is no longer being provided unless it is requested, he says.

What businesses primarily look for in a community are levels of education and skills, a work ethic, acceptance of responsibility and ability to be trained, he says. These indicators may be lower in predominantly black communities than in white communities, and they, rather than race, are deciding factors.

Statistics provided by his agency indicate it is making an effort to be fair to blacks.

* From 1983 through November, 1989, 177 of 475 AIDC loans and grants went to the 23 counties with the highest black populations. The counties made up 26 percent of the state's population, but received $47 million, about 37 percent of the money distributed in the programs.

* Fifteen of the agency's 112 employees are black.

James Hall III, the highest-ranking black in the agency, is director of minority business development. He says Harrington is supportive of the minority program, which has experienced a good deal of success.

But aside from black leaders, one of Harrington's sharpest critics is J. Bill Becker, president of the AFL-CIO of Arkansas. "He could do better," Becker says. "I question his methods of recruitment.

"The advertising the AIDC has done about low wages, non-union environment, and Arkansas' so-called right to work law represents a signal to greedy and anti-union employers that Arkansas is fertile ground for exploitation of workers... Any damn employer who comes to Arkansas based on that kind of criteria is not worth having in the first place."

Compare high-growth states on the eastern and western seaboards, the labor leader says. Workers there are not only highly-paid, but also highly organized in unions, and that has not stopped growth in those areas.

What came out in the controversy over Tokusen's file is that Harrington has little regard for various sections of the state, such as the Delta with its high black population, Becker says. "If you scratch the surface of someone racially biased, they will also have a union bias," he says.

Becker, who has been in his current post since 1964, says other AIDC directors have not appealed to prejudices, as Harrington has, and they have been successful in attracting industry to Arkansas.

"What good has it been to follow Harrington's policies?" he asks. Arkansas still has one of the highest unemployment rates among the states, and wages are falling further behind the rest of the nation.

In 1980, the average hourly wage for production and manufacturing workers in Arkansas was $5.71; nationally, it was $7.27 -- with the state falling short by $1.56, according to the Employment Security Division.

As of September 1989, the state average was $8.32, compared to $10.54 across the nation -- a $2.22 shortfall.

"Harrington has low expectations for the state, and he ought to have high expectations for the state," Becker says. "If you think low, you get low."

The AIDC director fires salvos of his own at Becker.

"His views of labor and management relations are totally antique," says Harrington, noting that some of the same criticism was contained in Becker comments published in articles more than 20 years ago.

Referring to Becker's combative style, Harrington says in today's economic climate, labor and management must work together to resolve problems. "I don't try to keep the state [labor force] in any way from being organized," the director says.

Although there may be an instance of a local industrial development agency using inflammatory advertising to attract industry, Harrington says the AIDC does not tout the state as being anti-union or a place with low wages. However, the state's right-to-work status is based in law. "It's a democratically imposed choice," Harrington says.

His agency is doing all it can, but it also takes other agencies to improve education and training climates. "It took years and years to get where we are, and it will take years and years to pull out of it," Harrington says.

HARRINGTON HAS staying power. His nearly eight years directing the AIDC is second only to that of William P. Rock, the agency's first director from 1955-1964.

In March 1982, when Gov. Bill Clinton promoted Harrington from deputy AIDC director, the agency had a staff of 107 and an operating budget of nearly $3 million. It now has 112 employees and a budget of more than $5 million.

The larger budget has gone for:

* A matchmaker program, set up in 1986 so that established companies within the state could expand by finding Arkansas markets.

* Community development programs to improve areas' chances of locating plants.

* Strengthening of international and domestic marketing. He set up offices at Tokyo and Taipei.

* Computerization of the agency.

Harrington also prides the state on having the largest increase in manufacturing employment compared to its neighboring states from 1983-1988. His figures indicate nearly 20 percent growth (from 190,800 workers to 228,400), while the national average is nearly 5 percent.

Harrington also says state earnings figures show increases of more than 10 percent in 14 manufacturing areas.

His annual state salary of $60,000 is the second-lowest of directors in similar agencies in the six contiguous states.

Mississippi has the highest-paid industrial development agency head in the region. He makes $110,000.

"It would be nice to be paid more, but at the same time I'm not doing this for the money," Harrington says.

He has had job offers to work at development agencies in other states. But the native of Greenbrier (Faulkner County) maintains a strong attachment to his home state. For all his relocation as a military man and 19 months as a VP with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, he kept his voting residence in Arkansas.

Like soldiers inspired by a commanding officer, AIDC staff and alumni remain loyal to him.

"Dave is very attuned to the fact that he is director of a state agency and as a result he has many bosses," says Joan W. Baldrige. She was the AIDC communications manager for 5 years before Clinton made her in 1988 director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

The necessity of confidentiality in plant location is something difficult for some people to understand, says Linda Penton, who was at the AIDC from 1976-1988. She is now an associate director at the Mississippi state development agency.

Bob Lamb, president of the State Chamber of Commerce who has worked with the AIDC since it was founded, offers strong praise, calling Harrington the most professional director the agency has had.

Lamb also notes 1989 was a year of exceptional growth with announced plans for two plants employing more than 1,000 workers each -- Fruit of the Loom at Osceola and Tyson Foods at Pine Bluff. Among other announcements are three steel-related industries -- Beakaert at Rogers, Tokusen U.S.A. at Conway and TrefilARBED at Pine Bluff and a large paper plant -- Nekoosa Papers at Ashdown.

From one point of view, the AIDC is seen as covert and cut-throat, an Arkansas version of the Central Intelligence Agency, and how Harrington worked as a soldier in the wilds of Vietnam.

But he, as well as present and former agency staffers, laugh at comparisons made between the AIDC and the CIA. "It sells newspapers," says Baldridge.

Penton says she could see how the perception is established when the agency works on confidential industrial recruitment projects, but it is no different in Mississippi.

Harrington gets strong backing in his policies from executives in the 1990 Arkansas Business Confidence Survey.

Business leaders (82 percent of respondents) view the state's economic development activities as crucial; 83 percent say growth in the number of state jobs is important, and the AIDC gets high marks for developing new industry.

Regarding disclosure of company files, 62 percent say the AIDC needs more authority to protect its files.

HIS MILITARY CAREER molded him, but love of his home drives him. "I don't think we've ever taken our rightful place as far as recognition in the United States in relation to what we have and enjoy here in Arkansas. I never felt like we developed our captabilities, as well as we should have. That's one reason why I have this very strong interest and passion to see that the people of Arkansas have better opportunities."

Another strong influence are his religious beliefs. He is a Southern Baptist and a member of Immanuel Baptist Church at Little Rock, where he and his wife Tina teach a career class.

Giving a sample of the instruction his students receive, he says, "I'm a hard worker and ambitious person, but money and wealth are not what drives me. I would not sacrifice the integrity of my job and my life for success."

Consequently, he says it hurts when he is accused of being a racist.

Following from his service career, Harrington is not one to sit around. He gets things done, even if his methods and his results draw strong criticism.

Harrington, still the military man, is not surprised the job is tough or that his reputation will be attacked. It's just a little like going into the Vietnam highlands on patrol.

PHOTO : The AIDC has strengthened its marketing at home and abroad, says Harrington, pictured here

PHOTO : at Omega Tube with its president, Tatsuo (Ted) Yanagiuchi.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Profile; Dave Harrington
Author:Kern, David F.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 15, 1990
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