Across the great state of Arkansas, businesses are producing goods and services that are helping to drive the global economy. Arkansas produces materials for the aerospace industry, parts for the automotive industry, food products, ammunition, timber and much more.
Arkansas’ economy has upward momentum, and the state is pushing forward to secure new economic development wins, from helping Arkansas companies expand to attracting new companies to move to The Natural State. This momentum is helping create new jobs and grow economic opportunity in Arkansas.
Over the last two years, our state has weathered a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes. Instead of shutting down, we rolled up our sleeves, adapted and kept our economy rolling. That’s because, in Arkansas, all business is essential.
Businesses, from Fortune 500 firms to mom-and-pop companies, have kept Arkansas’ economy firing during the past two years and maintained our momentum. New industrial development and company expansions in 2021 have helped the economy grow, and Arkansas is well-positioned for future growth.
All of this growth isn’t an accident. It’s the result of Arkansas’ potent mix of advantages: a business-friendly environment, favorable programs and legislation, a talented workforce and unmatched lifestyle opportunities.
Looking back on 2021, Arkansas accomplished a great deal, allowing us to punch above our weight class when it comes to economic development.
Under Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s leadership, the Arkansas state legislature signed into law the largest income tax cut in the state’s history. This tax cut, which the Tax Foundation called a “case of tax reform done right,” will provide approximately $500 million in annual tax relief for Arkansans once all the provisions go into effect in 2025.
Combined with our low cost of doing business and limited regulation, legislation like this helps make Arkansas an attractive location for business investment expansion.
The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) has partnered with the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism on a new campaign called “See Why Arkansas,” aimed at recruiting new talent to Arkansas and welcoming back Arkansans who have moved away. This initiative is geared toward bringing tech workers and other talented individuals to beautiful Arkansas to bolster our tech economy and other growing industries.
Starting with the announcement of Hytrol’s expansion in Fort Smith, Arkansas had a busy year of project economic development announcements in 2021. During 2021, there have been projects in all corners of Arkansas, from Flippin to Jonesboro and from Fort Smith to Hope. We closed out 2021 with a bang — the announcement of Westrock Coffee’s more than $100 million expansion in Conway, which will create 250 new jobs. These new developments and expansions came from companies representing a wide range of industries, including food and beverage, timber, steel, biotech and electric vehicle industries, which reflects the diversity of Arkansas’ economy.
Economic development was strong in The Natural State in 2021. In total, AEDC worked with 29 companies to create a projected 4,286 jobs, paying an average hourly wage of $23.04.
But, we’re only getting warmed up.
Already in 2022, Arkansas is having a record-breaking year. In January, U.S. Steel announced its plans to bring the most technologically advanced steel mill in North America to Arkansas. This “steel mill of the future” is a $3 billion investment in Arkansas, the largest capital investment in the state’s history.
Economic growth, though, is not only about the number of projects that we close each year. It’s about looking to the future to chart a course that ensures our state’s continued economic viability for the years to come.
That has been the long-term goal of Gov. Hutchinson’s Computer Science Education Initiative, which has expanded the opportunities students have to take computer science courses and has created a pipeline for highly skilled tech workers in Arkansas. This initiative has made Arkansas a national leader in computer science education and will provide high-paying jobs for Arkansans in the years to come.
Keeping Arkansas at the forefront of economic development is why The Natural State is taking the lead in the future mobility sector. Arkansas has a growing electric-vehicle manufacturing industry — with two companies already establishing a presence in the state.
Gov. Hutchinson established the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility, which will be composed of public and private leaders, to identify barriers to advance mobility initiatives in Arkansas and to make policy recommendations on how to spur development in this sector in the state. The council will deliver a final report to the governor at the end of November, outlining these barriers and recommendations.
With these recommendations in hand, Arkansas can create new economic opportunities in the advanced mobility sector that will impact people around our state, nation, and the world. It’s truly an exciting time to be in Arkansas!
Our state had a productive year in 2021, securing major economic development wins, and it’s looking even better for Arkansas in 2022. In the coming months, we are excited to announce new projects that will create new jobs for Arkansans and that will pay dividends for the state for decades.
Mike Preston is Arkansas Secretary of Commerce and executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.