A conversation with. Mitch Chandler, Communications Director, Arkansas Department of Economic Development
"We are diversified, with relocations and expansions in manufacturing, food processing, aeronautics, distribution, information technology, and customer service centers. Besides recruiting new companies, we pay attention to our existing industries, believing that a job sustained is a job created."
A. Arkansas continues to be a leader in aircraft production. Aircraft and related parts is our number-one export in terms of cash value. Dassault Falcon Jet is the largest manufacturing employer in Little Rock, with 1,500 employees; it celebrated three decades in Little Rock in 2005. Also in Little Rock, Raytheon Aircraft completes Hawker Horizon business jets. Besides available labor, the Little Rock area offers aviation firms the Arkansas Aviation Technologies Center, the Aerospace Education Center, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) Cyber College Engineering Programs, community college technical training programs, and financial incentives and loan programs.
Q. How is the economy faring?
A. In 2006, we had the best year in job growth since 2001. Our economy has grown slowly but steadily, and has been less affected by manufacturing losses than other states. We are diversified, with relocations and expansions in manufacturing, food processing, aeronautics, distribution, information technology, and customer service centers. Besides recruiting new companies, we pay attention to our existing industries, believing that a job sustained is a job created. We know the needs of our existing companies. We have field teams who live and work in the same communities with those industries.
Q. Has any new legislation improved interest in the state?
A. In the past four years since the 2003 Incentives Act, our pursuit of super-projects has become level with other states. In November 2004, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 82 to the state constitution, which gives the state legislature the right to write general revenue bonds for any industry that brings in 500 jobs and $500 million of investment. As we work with local legislators across the state, we have received great support in a bipartisan way. We want to attract super-projects, and we are confident that one day Arkansas will produce automobiles in the state. We will never give up on manufacturing.
Q. What do you have to offer technology-based companies?
A. Biotechnology and life sciences companies can take advantage of the resources such as the Biomedical Biotechnology Center, the Genesis Incubator, the National Center for Toxicological Research, the Rice Germplasm Evaluation and Enhancement Center, and the Aquaculture Fisheries Center. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the Biological Science Institute at Arkansas State University are attracting world-class scientists. The incubator programs in Fayetteville and LittleRock help bioscience and biotechnology industries gain momentum. Accelerate Arkansas is a group of individuals who are concerned and dedicated to pursuing projects in knowledge-based technology through research and development, intellectual property development, commercialization of new technologies, growth of entrepreneurial knowledge-based firms, and evolution of clusters.
Q. Are any regions growing with a particular type of industry?
A. Regionalism has come to Arkansas in a big way. Northwest Arkansas is the seventh-fastest growing MSA in the country, according to the Milliken Institute. With Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transport, and Alltel, corporate presence is a huge economic engine for this state. Our regional partnerships such as Cornerstone Coalition, Crossroads Coalition, Golden Triangle Economic Development Council, Metroplan, North Central Arkansas Regional Development, Northwest Arkansas Council, and Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission are seeing success through finding common ground in education and transportation issues.
Q. What about exports?
A. Maria Haley was recently named the new director of ADED. Her background in international business development has proven very valuable. During her 13 years at the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, the number of Arkansas export businesses doubled, and foreign investments tripled in Arkansas. We currently are working on imports, as shown by our recent visits to Japan and India, and we have trade offices in Mexico and Japan. Our largest trading partners are Canada and Mexico.
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