Heartland Forward, the nonprofit think tank based in Bentonville, on Wednesday released the results of its Arkansas Economic Recovery Strategy.
The study was commissioned by Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force to offer guidance to Arkansas policymakers on how to bolster the state’s economic rebound and growth post-pandemic.
Heartland Forward analyzed comprehensive data across six key economic areas for the report: talent and workforce, innovation and research, entrepreneurship and small business, health care, supply chain resilience and high-speed internet. The report, available here, provides an extensive analysis of Arkansas’ strengths, weaknesses and qualitative data. It found that Arkansas policymakers have an opportunity to demonstrate that the state punches above its weight class and can be a national leader in many areas.
“Arkansas’ natural beauty, economic resilience, and robust workforce are the keys to dynamic economic growth,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “A custom-made strategy such as this that considers the needs of all regions of the state is essential as we move out of the pandemic and return to the booming economy we were building before COVID-19.”
Arkansas was hard-hit by the pandemic. The state’s high rate of chronic health conditions, and in some cases, the urban-rural digital divide, exacerbated the impact. In some Arkansas counties, more than 35 percent of households have no access to internet — an essential element of working and learning from home.
Despite this, the report found that Arkansas boasts an array of qualities including affordable housing, family-friendly communities and natural amenities. The report said Arkansas has yet to reach its economic potential, ranking second in the nation for the share of its workforce in skilled trades, and noted important economic players such as Tyson Foods, the University of Arkansas system, Murphy USA, Windstream, J.B. Hunt, Walmart, ArcBest and Dillard’s.
The report outlines specific recommendations for Arkansas policymakers, including expanding workforce apprenticeship programs, building upon remote incentive programs such as “Life Works Here,” maintaining reimbursement parity for telemedicine for rural residents and deploying digital divide initiatives such as Heartland Forward’s Connectivity Corps. With targeted action, Arkansas can equip itself to tap into the national knowledge-based economy and attract dynamic talent, the report said.
Steuart Walton, chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, said the strategy outlined in the study embodies the type of big thinking Arkansas needs.
“Stakeholders from every corner of this state helped inform this report and it will take that same approach to make these big ideas become a reality,” he said. “I am honored to have been a part of this work and proud to be an Arkansan.”