Arkansas is Ready for Business

29 Jul, 2020

By: Governor Asa Hutchinson

In Arkansas, every business is essential.  Arkansas is a business-friendly state with an abundance of resources – both natural and business – to help businesses succeed, including, but not limited to food and beverage businesses. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry, producing 49 percent of all the rice in the United States.

Other major crops include soybeans, corn, wheat and grain sorghum, and it is the only state commercially producing and processing edamame soybeans. In addition, Arkansas boasts a strong and growing network of farms large and small raising livestock, fruits and vegetables.

This network has kept the economic engine running for more than half a century as the state transitioned from an agricultural economy to include industry and knowledge-based technology. Today, under the leadership of Governor Asa Hutchinson, our leaders are working to ensure the state keeps moving forward during the pandemic.

A Stable Economy

While our country saw many states shelter in place, Arkansas’ economy remained open. The result has been a more stable economy and less volatility in our workforce – in all industry sectors.  

This stability is further strengthened by the collaboration between our public and private partners. One of Governor Hutchinson’s first moves was to create an economy recovery task force, led by Steuart Walton, entrepreneur and grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and state cabinet secretaries, to provide leadership and confidence to the business community as the state navigates these troubled waters. These leaders were charged with the difficult task of protecting the physical health of the state’s three million people while protecting the economic health of its businesses.

Under the governor’s leadership, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission launched three business assistance programs that helped more than 12,000 Arkansas businesses. This was in addition to more than $3.2 billion that Arkansas companies received from the Paycheck Protection Program. These funds helped several Arkansas businesses switch gears to meet the demands of new products and to assist employees in need.

Assisting Communities

When retailers struggled to meet demand for hand sanitizer, two Arkansas companies, Pernod Ricard in Fort Smith and Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock, pivoted from manufacturing liquor to producing hand sanitizer.

“In times like this, it is important that everyone, especially companies with strong U.S. roots, like ours, prioritize good corporate citizenship and step up in the name of the greater good,” said Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard USA. “I am glad that we were able to form this public/private partnership and repurpose our spirits production facilities to meet a pressing, national need.”

Americo Vinyl & Fabric in West Memphis has served the restaurant industry with quality linen and vinyl table covers and upholstery for more than half a century. Americo employees used their skills and resources to shift gears when they saw a need in their community to produce cotton facemasks and isolation gowns for local hospitals.

“When the social distancing guidelines were announced, our strong start to the new year came to an abrupt halt. Our tough situation became even more grim with the mandated closure of all eat-in facilities,” said owner Woody Rigdon. “We are grateful for the opportunity to do our part.”

Lowell-based produce distributor KT Produce saw their sales decline by 90 percent when the pandemic hit. But when the company continued to receive truckloads of produce, they decided to start selling produce directly to consumers, allowing curbside pickup of orders. Using social media to get the word out, customers can order produce and other items online. The most popular item has been the KT Fresh Box, which includes 25 to 30 pounds of produce, recipes and other items for about $35.

“What has kept the enthusiasm going is people getting their KT Fresh Box,” said KT Produce owner and president Chris Thompson. “They don’t know what’s in it. They go home and they do what they’re calling an unboxing. They’ll unbox it. Some of them do it on video, and some of them do it and take pictures. They take everything out of the box, and they line it up and take pictures of it. Usually, it will have three or four recipes in it.”

Arkansas’ larger businesses are assisting employees and their communities. Springdale-based George’s Inc. temporarily raised hourly pay for 7,300 employees as an “appreciation bonus” for working during the pandemic while JB Hunt and Walmart gave one-time bonuses for employees on the front lines. Meanwhile, Tyson Foods, also based in Springdale, committed $13 million to support critical needs in local communities throughout the company’s operations footprint.

A Quality Workforce

Arkansas knows that both new and established food and beverage companies need a quality workforce to succeed, so the state offers a variety of programs and services to meet those needs. More than 50,000 Arkansans work in the food and beverage industry, and Arkansas continues to modernize and adapt as the industry evolves and changes.

Arkansas has a wide range of education and training programs available for people working – or intending to work – in the food and beverage industry. From making value-added products out of locally raised foods to streamlining a food packaging plant, there are training sessions and workshops around the state to help grow your business.

AEDC’s Manufacturing Solutions offers a range of workshops and training beneficial to businesses involved in different niches of the state’s food and beverage industry. From leadership workshops to cybersecurity, Manufacturing Solutions helps manufacturers maximize the value of their businesses through innovation, operational excellence, sustainability, and leadership development.

The Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, part of the University of Arkansas System, is the primary research support agency for farmers, food processors, and other related businesses statewide. The centers are great for keeping current on the food industry and technology in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Food Innovation Center helps Fayetteville-area entrepreneurs develop, market, and sell their food products. The center provides facilities, equipment, and technical expertise.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center helps entrepreneurs with business creation, management and operation.

Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food is a division of Northwest Arkansas Community College  that provides academic and career training in culinary nutrition, artisanal food, beverage management and food entrepreneurship. 

The Food Science Department at the University of Arkansas Dale Bumpers College of Agriculture, Food and Life Sciences offers three core concentrations in food science, food technology and food and culinary sciences. Program graduates are prepared for positions directly within the food and beverage industry, as well as medical, dental and pharmacy schools.

Startup Junkie in Fayetteville provides free consulting, events, workshops and programs, as well as access to venture capital and co-working space for entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas. The Conductor is a partnership between Startup Junkie and the University of Central Arkansas and offers similar services to the Central Arkansas community.

Companies looking to start, expand or relocate their food or beverage business in Arkansas will find the state ripe with opportunity. For more information, contact the Arkansas Economic Development Commission at 1-800-ARKANSAS or visit  T&ID