A task force focused on the state's post-pandemic economy wants to use Arkansas' recovery to rebrand the state and build on its strengths.
- The AERS was commissioned by the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, a group appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson last year to guide how the state reopens following the pandemic.
- The primary audience is Arkansas policymakers, economic development officials and those in post-secondary education, but the authors hope policymakers in other heartland states will take note of the strategies.
Why it matters: The authors see now as the time to elevate Arkansas' economy by ensuring it's a desirable place to live and work.
- The COVID-19 pandemic exposed some of the state's underlying issues that stunt growth, such as lack of internet connectivity and its poor showing in health scores.
The big picture: Heartland Forward distilled the state's economy into six main areas, with recommendations and detailed steps for achieving growth in each one. The six buckets are:
- Talent and workforce — develop a statewide, cohesive and aligned talent creation, attraction and retention strategy.
- Innovation and research — increase, and make permanent, funding for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
- Entrepreneurship and small businesses — explicitly incorporate entrepreneurship as a key strategy for growing and diversifying the state's economy.
- Health care — invest public funds in educating residents about chronic disease and mental health while also building a hub of medical and research centers.
- Supply chains and logistics — embrace a new type of blue-collar work found in transportation and logistics.
- High-speed internet — increase funding to achieve aspirational levels of internet connectivity for Arkansans and upgrade the broadband infrastructure.
Yes, but: Research shows key factors holding back economic growth here include the low labor force participation rate of women, at 69.6%, which is 44th in the nation.
- Plus: Only 23.3% of Arkansans above the age of 25 hold a bachelor's degree, making us 48th in the U.S.
- Only 8.3% hold a graduate degree, the lowest in the U.S.
- Our obesity rate is 37.4%, the third-highest in the U.S.
The bottom line: Authors say Arkansas needs to do more to attract talent, beef up industries like tech and health care, and train the workforce for higher-paying jobs.
- And internet connectivity is critical since it can help with training and improving health through telemedicine.
What to watch: Gov. Hutchinson is moving into his role as chair of the National Governors Association this week, so the Heartland Forward strategies could show up in other states' pandemic recovery plans.
- Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward, said the organization will support and offer advice to the governor's office and policy leaders in implementation efforts, if needed.
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