Arkansas: A Hidden Gem Charting New Courses

27 Feb, 2017

By: Governor Asa Hutchinson

For more than half a century, Arkansas has been a leader in manufacturing. Today, the state is broadening its horizons and charting a new course as it works to prepare both its current and future workforce to meet the growing demands in technology. Whether it is relocations or expansions, Arkansas is moving to top of the list of places where companies want to conduct business. With a low cost of doing business, central location with access to markets and an award-winning quality of life, Arkansas is a hidden gem.

When Governor Asa Hutchinson took office in January 2015, job development became his No. 1 priority. In fact, on his first day in office, the Governor called six CEOs to sell the benefits of doing business in Arkansas. A year later, one of those companies, Sig Sauer, announced it would be locating an ammunitions facility in Jacksonville. Having a proactive governor has been a big part of Arkansas’ success.

Arkansas’ skilled workforce is getting the attention of companies that initially knew little about the state before conducting site visits – companies like Elyxor Inc., a team of software engineering specialists, that recently announced it plans to hire 45 new employees in Central Arkansas and feels that Little Rock is a hidden gem, both in workforce and quality of life.

“There is some great talent here. And I find Little Rock very interesting because Little Rock is, in the technical community, hyperconnected,” said Rob Lentz, Elyxor partner and chief strategy officer. “People want to be part of a place that is changing, and changing for the better.

Preparing High-School Students for the Growing Tech Sector
Governor Hutchinson understands the importance of education plays in economic development, which is why the governor is leading the way to put Arkansas in the forefront of computer science education. Arkansas became the first state to pass – and fund – a law requiring all public and charter high schools to offer computer science courses. Within one academic year, Arkansas’ public schools saw an increase in enrollment in computer science classes of 260 percent. Of the almost 4,000 students enrolled the first year, more than 550 took more than one course. As of this academic year, numbers from the Arkansas Department of Education show an increase of 1,527 students from last year – bringing the total enrollment to more than 5,500, with more than a thousand students taking more than one course.

Increasing the Percentage of College Degrees
Knowing that higher education is also vital to economic development, Arkansas is changing the way it funds its colleges and universities to place the priority on accountability, student success and program completion rather than enrollment. The goal is to increase the number of Arkansans who are career-ready with degrees and industry-recognized certificates.

Maximizing Potential of Existing Business
Recognizing the importance of local industry, the Existing Business Resource division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission is specifically focused on understanding the needs of each of its existing industries and assisting with their growth in Arkansas.

One of the most powerful tools AEDC has is the ability to assist new and existing industry with the growth of their existing workforce through the use of AEDC’s training programs.

The division also provides valuable connections with other state agencies and serves as a liaison to the state’s educational system ensuring that training needs are effectively addressed. Sector managers are knowledgeable resources for existing industries in Arkansas helping companies navigate state systems to take full advantage of all pertinent available programs.

Public-Private Partnerships Keep Current Employees Relevant
Recognized as a statewide business development and training leader, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith maintains its long-standing commitment to business and industry with the Center for Business and Professional Development (CBPD). As part of the College of Applied Science and Technology, CBPD partners with companies to increase their productivity and competitive stance by developing the skills of their employees. The college provides customized training/consulting to meet company-specific needs, training when and where businesses need it for employees and open enrollment professional development opportunities. It’s just one of many partnerships found throughout the state.

Matching Businesses with Prospective Employees
The Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate (CRC) is a portable credential that confirms to employers that an individual possesses basic workplace skills in reading for information, applied mathematics and locating information. Even if a job seeker has a GED, high school diploma or post-secondary degree, the Arkansas CRC further verifies that he or she possesses skills required for 21st century jobs. To date, the Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate program has qualified more than 59,000 high-skilled positions.

Building the Bridge between Educators and Industry
AEDC’s Modern Workplace program was created to facilitate the connection and communication between educators and industry representatives in an effort to create an education environment that allows Arkansas’ emerging workforce to lead productive lives and satisfy the needs of Arkansas businesses. The program connects educators with local and regional employers to gain familiarity with local products and processes utilized in the workplace and foster ongoing relationships between educators and local industries. Educators work with local businesses to supplement current curriculum and learn about career opportunities and the skills needed to succeed in local businesses.

Preparing Now for Future Success
What makes Arkansas special is the many Arkansans who care about their future. This past November, Arkansans voted by a two-thirds margin to amend the Arkansas Constitution to give local governments the power to fund economic development projects, to work with local chambers of commerce and economic development groups to provide funds for economic development services and collaborate with neighboring cities and counties to fund projects.