Feb 23, 2022 - News

Arkansas launches plan to become the Silicon Valley of transportation

Illustration of a plane leaving a sky writing trail in the shape of a dollar sign
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Arkansas is calling dibs on a sexy new industry.

What's happening: Today a group of organizations — including Walmart, J.B. Hunt, FedEx and the University of Arkansas — announced their collaborative support to make the state a leader in "next-generation transportation."

  • The term covers everything from electric vehicles to autonomous drones to flying cars to apparatus not yet invented.

Driving the news: This comes a day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order to create the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility.

Why it matters: Establishing Arkansas as a hub for high-tech industries will continue broadening its economy, attracting talent and help further grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The organizations claim Arkansas will be a global transportation leader by 2030, but spokespeople who Axios talked to couldn't offer concrete examples of what will happen in the next eight years to achieve that goal.

  • The plan is to lay the groundwork for the industry to thrive through collaboration with private industry, government and academia, they said.

Of note: One group member, the Runway Group, owned by Steuart and Tom Walton, has already made a "multimillion-dollar" investment in the initiative, according to a news release.

By the numbers: The companies say that if Arkansas built an original equipment manufacturing facility to make needed items for the industry, it would create $9.9 billion in economic activity and could add 7,000 jobs.

  • A 2019 study claims the flying car sector alone could be a $1.5 trillion global market by 2040.

State of play: Next-generation transportation makes sense for Arkansas. The state is home to some of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S., and it's more-or-less in the geographic center of the country, so it's able to serve both coasts as well as the North and South.

  • The state's three largest companies alone manage nearly 30,000 semi-trucks, requiring logistics know-how ideal for fostering talent in supply chain management.
  • Lithium, a key ingredient in batteries, is mined from the Smackover Formation in south Arkansas and a new steel plant will be built in northeast Arkansas.

The intrigue: The group claims Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which uses aircraft to move cargo and people, will be yet another trillion-dollar industry and just may be a partial solution to the current supply chain and labor shortage challenges. The market could add 4,000 STEM jobs in the state by 2045.

Flashback: Late last year, a Walmart vendor, Gatik, began making driverless deliveries from a warehouse to a retail store.

  • Not long after, the retailer started making deliveries from some NWA stores using autonomous drones.

What they're saying: "Broadly speaking, I think economic growth and development is the key to continuously improving our quality of life, and I'm excited by the potential this industry has to contribute to Arkansas' economy," Steuart Walton said in an email to Axios.

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