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Former Entergy CEO to become Arkansas commerce secretary

Michael Hibblen
Former Entergy Arkansas CEO Hugh McDonald speaks to reporters and business leaders during a press conference Thursday after Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced she intends to nominate him to become commerce secretary.

Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Thursday that she intends to name former Entergy Arkansas President and CEO Hugh McDonald to lead the state Department of Commerce. He would come out of retirement to serve in the cabinet-level position which is tasked with attracting new businesses to Arkansas and convincing current companies to expand their operations.

Sanders made the announcement at a press conference full of business leaders, as well as current Commerce Secretary Mike Preston, who was appointed by outgoing Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

“We need to make sure that we have the right people in place that have a desire and a love to see Arkansas succeed, and I have no doubt that Hugh is that person,” Sanders said. “He’s not only going to help create and foster a great community and environment in the business world, but also help us build the workforce that is absolutely necessary for us to be successful.”

She said McDonald will play a key role in implementing reforms to make Arkansas a more business-friendly state, which will include phasing out the state income tax.

McDonald said he welcomes the challenge.

“It’s certainly a critically-important job,” he said. “I will do my dead-level best to make sure that we continue to press forward in increasing jobs, bringing companies in, building existing companies and developing the top talent in the state of Arkansas.”

McDonald led Entergy Arkansas, which is the state’s largest utility company, from 2000- 2016. He said his focus will be on the needs of the marketplace, determining the most ideal financial incentives to attract companies to Arkansas, and when there’s an opportunity, “do it quick, do it fast and be flexible of change.”

A key part of expanding businesses in the state, McDonald said, will include having a trained workforce ready to fill positions. That could include having more technical schools specializing in specific fields for young people not going to college.

Sanders said education will be a major factor in her administration, especially when deciding what deficiencies currently exist.

“Making sure that we are focusing on what a student is capable of doing, not just what a student actually knows, is really important to addressing the problem — helping kids from a much earlier standpoint get on a pathway to prosperity,” Sanders said. “Right now we are not spending, in my opinion, enough time focusing on students at an earlier age, helping create a pathway for success for them.”

McDonald is the latest person who the incoming governor has said she plans to nominate. On Wednesday, Sanders announced her intention to name Shane Khoury to become secretary of the Department of Energy and Environment.

Sanders, who will be sworn in on Jan. 10, said more cabinet-level position announcements are likely next week.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.