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Conference Looks At Best Ways To Attract More Companies To Arkansas

Jobs Now Mike Beebe
Michael Hibblen
/
KUAR News

Finding the best ways to attract new businesses to Arkansas was the topic of a conference held Tuesday in Little Rock. 

More than 500 business leaders, educators, state lawmakers and others took part in the Jobs Now conference, looking at what is working and the challenges the state will continue to face.

Gov. Mike Beebe told them the key is having a properly trained workforce.

"Incentives over and above tax incentives that we have been able to capitalize on, along with the quick action closing funds since 2007 are important. All those things are significant, but all of them pale to insignificance compared to the one thing that’s more important than anything else. And that’s the quality of the workforce," Beebe said.

The governor said that is typically measured by the skill level and work ethic of the workforce.  He said. it’s vital that schools and colleges are willing to continually modifying their programs to meet the changing needs of employers.

Beebe also noted a key frustration is that when Arkansas young people leave for college, there often aren’t good jobs available once they graduate.

"The lifeblood of any state is the ability of that state to create good jobs for her people, so that your children or your grandchildren don’t have to leave to support their families," Beebe said.

Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce President Randy Zook said another challenge is having highly trained young people ready as much of the current workforce is retiring.

"10,000 people everyday reach full retirement age in the United States. This will continue for a number of years. This is creating serious ills and shortages in many of our most important businesses, including manufacturing firms, construction companies, transportation companies and others. This is something we must come to grips with," Zook said.

Further frustrating matters, he told participants, is that for a number of complex reasons, the workforce participation rate in the U.S. is at record lows because many have stepped out of the workforce.

Speakers noted the state has had many things to celebrate, including the groundbreaking of the Big River Steel mill a day earlier in an area of northeast Arkansas that has been struggling for years.  It will eventually create about 500 new jobs, with an average salary of $75,000.  But challenges will persist, especially as many manufacturing companies have moved plants outside of the U.S.

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