Strategies developed to stimulate the growth opportunities of the state
Last week, an organization that promotes economic development called on Arkansas policymakers and business leaders to aggressively pursue a culture shift in how the state recruits and invests in growth opportunities.
Heartland Forward, a Bentonville think tank, delivered a 77-page economic development report to a task force of business and community leaders that Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed to help protect businesses on Wednesday and promote public health during the pandemic.
Heartland’s strategy outlines specific recommendations for six focus areas that can trigger the state’s post-pandemic economic recovery:
• Broadband extension. One in five households in Arkansas do not have an internet subscription, a problem that worsened during the pandemic when employees and students were forced to stay home to work and learn. Broadband access was crucial for success. The strategy calls for increased funding for the Arkansas Rural Connect program and the Arkansas High Cost Fund, both of which help subsidize the deployment of broadband. Internet service providers should be given more flexibility in using public funds to expand broadband rather than being limited to certain areas determined by the agencies distributing the money.
• Talent and workforce. Arkansas needs a cohesive talent program that includes recruitment and retention and greater support for women entrepreneurs. Recruitment and retention efforts should focus on knowledge-based sectors such as data science, supply chain management, business services, healthcare, education and research and development. In addition, learning programs for adults and adolescents need to be expanded. To help women, Arkansas should establish a statewide program to provide capital, mentorship, and technical assistance targeting women entrepreneurs.
• Innovation and Research. Data from 2019, the most recent available, shows Arkansas ranked last – the worst in the country – to get federal funding for science and engineering. To improve, the state must match funds provided by federal programs that support small businesses. Arkansas is also expected to dedicate more funds that provide early stage venture capital to startups. Funding is also expected to be increased for the Arkansas Research Alliance, a public-private partnership that aims to improve research collaboration between industry, government and academics.
• Entrepreneurship and small businesses. Arkansas lags the country in attracting venture capital and knowledge-intensive start-ups, that is, those in the early years of operation. The researchers applauded the state for recently forming a small business and entrepreneurship program under the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The Heartland Report calls for a significant shift in state funding and resources here – shifting the money going into industrial recruiting to focus on recruiting start-ups. In addition, more funds should be directed to Arkansas business support organizations.
• Health care. The state has the third highest obesity rate in the United States, low-income families have limited access to health services, and Arkansas ranks 47th for employer-provided medical insurance . Nationally, health care has been one of the fastest growing US economic sectors. The state should allocate more funds to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, a health research and advocacy organization that promotes better access to care and programs that mitigate health risks, among others. The report states that the Arkansas Health & Opportunity for Me Act of 2021 is expected to be fully implemented, which would expand medical coverage to 300,000 Arkansans.
• Supply chains and logistics. The sector is a strength for Arkansas, home to leading transportation companies that give the state a competitive advantage that it should capitalize on. Public employment in the sector is double the national average. Arkansas should capitalize on its strengths and pay more attention to expanding the trucking industry. The state should conduct a job needs assessment, especially with drivers, and encourage public-private partnerships dedicated to the growth of small and medium-sized logistics, supply chain and transport companies.
Arkansas has an opportunity to build for the future, according to the report.
“This strategy is not intended to be a comprehensive economic development plan for Arkansas that encompasses all of the required actions,” the study said. “It will not replace existing plans, but it serves to build on them and provide advice on how Arkansas can adapt and capitalize on the opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Arkansas has the incredible prospect of coming out of the disruption in a vantage point. “
Looking for summer educational options and, perhaps, a future career for your child?
Take a look at the cybersecurity camp being held starting this week for children in grades 7 to 12. The camp is a partnership involving the Forge Institute and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and will be held at the school’s Cyber Arena, which is a cybersecurity-focused lab within the computer science department.
The camp starts on Monday and ends on July 23.
The free camp is an effort to bring together students, educators, businesses and state leaders to generate interest and long-term investment in cybersecurity education in high schools. It is funded by a $ 100,000 grant from the National Security Agency.
The Forge Institute provides instructors, guest speakers and curriculum development.
“It’s going to be an exciting two weeks for all involved,” said Scott Anderson, Executive Director of The Forge Institute. “They will have the opportunity to hear from cybersecurity experts from across the country and come away more aware of what a cybersecurity career looks like.”
More information and registrations are available at eac-ualr.org/CyberGym/.
The Arkansas Department of Tourism has released a series of games that enhance the travel experience when visiting sites across the state.
The partnership with Eksplor Gaming includes games promoting travel to specific regions and destinations, including interactive content and activities for the Ozarks, State Scenic Drives and the Shiloh Museum of the Ozarks and others. Site (s.
The games include quizzes and other online activities that can be used before you visit a site to learn more, while traveling, or as a test of what you’ve learned when you get home.
Eksplor’s partnership with the state began last year after the company won the governor’s cup on tourism.
More information is available at arkansas.com/eksplor-games.
Ideas for columns or recommendations? Any thoughts or reflections to pursue? Contact me at [email protected] or at (501) 378-3567.