by Andrew Moreau | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / October 24, 2019
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce’s business advocacy tour rolled through Little Rock on Wednesday, and Randy Zook, president and chief executive, outlined improvements that are needed to make the state more competitive in the next decade and beyond.
The event is one of 18 around Arkansas the chamber is holding to galvanize the business community and motivate leaders to build a more competitive climate that promotes business growth and adds jobs.
“We need to create an environment in Arkansas that is conducive to and supportive of a very robust opportunity for business expansion, recruitment and investment — resulting in economic growth that is equal to or better than our regional competitive states,” Zook told about 60 business leaders gathered Wednesday at the Chenal Country Club.
One of the state’s main challenges is workforce readiness: making sure that Arkansas has the right workers trained with the right skills in the areas where businesses want to locate and expand.
“Not a week goes by that I don’t talk with a business owner or manager who says I need more people,” Zook said. “We’re constrained by this challenge to enhance workforce readiness across the state.”
Yet the state is making progress. Arkansas has gained a top-10 ranking for overall cost of doing business in a national survey of site-selection experts conducted by Area Development magazine.
“We have a relatively competitive set of tools for economic development,” Zook said. “We need to do more.”
The top three factors businesses consider when expanding or moving to an area are the availability of skilled labor, labor costs and highway accessibility. To that end, Arkansas has some work to do — especially in making sure the state has more large sites with highway access and clear control and ownership of the land.
“We are behind the curve and we need a few more of those, especially in central Arkansas,” Zook said of site availability for large industry.
As for highways, Zook asked the business leaders to build support for approval of an extension of a half-percent sales tax, which will be presented to Arkansas voters next year. The extension would raise more than $200 million devoted to highway improvements. “This is a critical infrastructure decision that we will make,” Zook added.
The Chamber is wrapping up its door-to-door meetings, with the last events scheduled for next Tuesday in West Memphis; Nov. 12 in Texarkana; and Nov. 14 in Fort Smith.
The State Chamber will hold its annual meeting on Nov. 6 at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. Ted Abernathy, managing partner of a consulting firm that recently completed a workforce development study for Arkansas, will be the keynote speaker.