LITTLE ROCK — Regional transmission organization Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, announced Wednesday it will build an operations center in Little Rock.

The organization plans to invest between $5 million and $8 million in the new facility and hire 35 to 50 highly skilled employees at an average annual salary of $85,000, MISO President and CEO John R. Bear said in a news conference at the state Capitol.

Also taking part in the new conference were Gov. Mike Beebe, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and Colette Honorable, chairman of the state Public Service Commission.

"MISO now spans … from Manitoba (Canada) all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, and we’re very excited about that expansion for us," Bear said. "It gives us 15 states and a Canadian province, and I think as we looked at expanding south, Little Rock was a very, very easy choice for us as far as where we wanted to put that operations center."

MISO’s expansion includes integrating the four-state Entergy operating companies along with several area transmission owners and generators into its system. Entergy Arkansas has projected $263 million in savings to its customers over the first 10 years of MISO membership.

Honorable said Entergy Arkansas’ membership in MISO, recently approved by the PSC, means that all of Arkansas’ electric utilities will belong to a regional transmission organization, either MISO or Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool.

Bear said MISO chose Little Rock because of its central geographic location, quality of life, skilled work force, friendly business environment and "colleges and universities that can support the high-tech folks that we need."

The organization has already started working with some Arkansas universities on creating an internship program to produce good candidates for the new jobs that will be created, Bear said. MISO will need electrical engineers, customer service personnel and people who can serve as liaisons with state regulators, he said.

The organization expects to find a site for the planned 40,000-to-50,000-square-foot facility within 18 months.

State incentives that MISO is eligible to receive for the project include a cash rebate of 3.9 percent of payroll for new jobs created in the first four years and sales tax refunds on building materials, machinery and equipment associated with the project.

MISO is headquartered in Carmel, Ind. and has operations centers in Carmel and St. Paul, Minn. The nonprofit organization was approved as the nation’s first regional transmission organization in 2001 and now manages more than $18 billion in gross market energy transactions each year.