Hutchinson delivers keynote at Marion Chamber banquet
Governor highlights local leadership, growth
When Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson comes to Crittenden County and talks with its leaders and meets with the business community, he is struck by the overwhelming sense of excitement about the future.
After decades of population loss and high unemployment and poverty, Crittenden County and eastern Arkansas has turned a corner and is now creating jobs and new opportunity.
Hutchinson, who was the keynote speaker at the Marion Chamber of Commerce Awards, said he was tickled recently by a Tweet that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley sent out which touted her state’s 5.4 percent unemployment rate.
He noted that Arkansas’s unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, has added 54,000 jobs since he became governor, and boasted that Crittenden County’s unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.
“I said ‘yes!” Hutchinson said. “You’re beating the whole state of South Carolina.”
Hutchinson singled out several people from Crittenden County who are in top leadership positions and are helping to improve the state’s fortunes including Robert Thorne on the Workforce Development Board, Denny East on the Arkansas Racing Commission, and Troy Keeping of Southland on the Career Education and Workforce Development Board.
He also pointed to the new jobs that will be coming to the region as a result of Big River Steel as a sign of the region’s increased competitiveness, and praised the state’s partnership with ASU Mid-South for its work to develop an educated and skilled workforce to attract and support those manufacturers looking to build or expand their businesses.
Hutchinson said the state is doing some good things to market Crittenden County and Arkansas both abroad and nationally to bring more jobs to the state. Those efforts have resulted in five new agreements which have created 173 new jobs in Crittenden County at an average wage of $21 an hour.
“This is success for Crittenden County,” Hutchinson said. “And I congratulate your leadership.”
Hutchinson said as governor he continues to focus on three things: job creation, improving education, and reforming state government so that it runs more efficiently.
In addition to creating 54,000 new jobs, Arkansas is also leading the nation in HUTCHINSON
computer science education. His goal is to graduate 6,000 computer science graduates per year over the next four years.
Hutchinson said in order to grow jobs in the state they need to have a philosophy to enable the private sector economy to grow faster than the government sector.
While the state will continue to maintain a safety net for its less fortunate residents who need public assistance, one of those changes in philosophy has been to require recipients of food stamps who are able bodied to either enroll in a job training program or volunteer 20 hours a month at a community organization.
“What I appreciate about Arkansas is that our people love to work,” Hutchinson said. “They understand the farm and they understand that hard work is necessary and the importance of showing up on time. And we are encouraging that.”
In the first quarter of 2016, Arkansas’s economy grew faster than any other state in the country.
“As governor I say let’s enjoy it,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said Crittenden County and Arkansas are competitive in today’s global economy.
He’s been on trade missions to Japan where he met with the CEO of Hino Motors and made connections in German which will help Big River Steel and Bayer, which has a soybean research facility in Marion.
He’s also been to Cuba to market Arkansas rice and poultry and has an upcoming trade mission to China.
“Arkansas will benefit from that,” Hutchinson said. “My job is to enhance those relationships abroad and I love doing that. We are doing some good things.”
Hutchinson said he will continue to lend his support to economic development opportunities in Crittenden County.
“When I look at Crittenden County what I sense is excitement about the future,” Hutchinson said. “It’s excitement that we have turned a corner, that we are creating jobs here in Crittenden County and Marion in particular. And I want to support that. That’s why I am here.”
By Mark Randall