Talk Business & Politics: An Economic Game-Changer
In Arkansas, Southern hospitality is more than a way of life. It's how we approach new business opportunities. And it’s paying off, especially in fast-growing regions like Northeast Arkansas.
At the recent Arkansas Economic Development Foundation Luncheon, U.S. Steel president and CEO David Burritt praised Arkansas’s welcoming nature. He shared stories of Osceola residents lending a hand to company officials, some even offering to help them move, following the announcement of its new $3-billion advanced steelmaking facility.
As Burritt witnessed, our residents’ affability is noteworthy. But it’s not the sole reason Northeast Arkansas has successfully attracted and retained corporations like U.S. Steel. The region has a talented workforce and the know-how to leverage innovative incentives, complemented by an unparalleled quality of life. These factors continually tilt the scale when businesses decide where to locate or expand.
The workforce: America faces a historic worker shortage, particularly for skilled trades like manufacturing. But Northeast Arkansas is ahead of the curve. For years, the region’s universities and community colleges have recognized the growing demand for these employees. And they’ve responded in kind, developing two-year and four-year programs to meet the need. Take Arkansas Northeastern College (ANC) as an example. Under Dr. James Shemwell’s leadership, the school deploys technical and professional programs to supply qualified graduates for the job market. ANC even partners with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) to deliver custom job training for local industries. When prospective companies know Northeast Arkansas has infrastructure like ANC to equip workers to excel and stay on the job, establishing or growing their presence is an easy sell.
The incentives: The AEDC states it is “100% invested in business growth.” And that commitment is on full display in Northeast Arkansas. In close collaboration with the AEDC, the region harnesses incentives to encourage corporate relocations, expansions and continued job creation. It takes advantage of the recycling tax credit program—an initiative unique to the state—to lure large steel producers. Counties also benefit from property tax abatement programs. They utilize these mutually beneficial arrangements to secure long-term economic investments and local jobs. But Northeast Arkansas provides businesses with more than financial incentives. Its central location and proximity to the Mississippi River offer companies quick, convenient and cost-efficient access to global markets.
The quality of life: The competition for employees is fierce, and businesses must plan their recruitment strategies accordingly. What’s at the top of their lists? Finding a location where prospective workers want to raise their families. Northeast Arkansas easily fits the bill. It’s an affordable place to live with an accessible healthcare network, education options and recreational amenities. Recently, there’s been a surge of interest in the region’s culture, both past and present, with destinations like the Cold War Museum in Blytheville, Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess, Forum Theatre in Jonesboro and more. In Northeast Arkansas, residents get the “perks” they crave at a fraction of the price of larger cities or more urban regions.
Over the last year alone, Northeast Arkansas has put itself on the map for its record-breaking economic development projects, from U.S. Steel to Atlas Tube’s $150-million electric resistance welding steel mill in Blytheville. The impact of these agreements extends well beyond the initial dollar figures. When leading corporations double down on the region, there’s a ripple effect. The economy strengthens as feeder companies crop up to support the subsequent industry growth.
Success like this doesn’t happen overnight. But the time and financial effort are well worth it. As Northeast Arkansas can testify, when a region invests in workforce development, incentives and quality of life, it becomes easier to secure those big deals. And that’s an economic game-changer.
Austin Grinder is an attorney and registered lobbyist for Mullenix & Associates, an Arkansas-based government relations and consulting firm.