Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday the state’s unemployment rate will be announced as 3.7 percent Friday and said he hopes disputes over trade policies end soon.
The state’s previous unemployment rate was 3.8 percent. Hutchinson preempted an announcement by the Department of Workforce Services by a day while speaking at an agricultural summit in Little Rock.
The Advancing American Agriculture: Ag Technology & the Law conference was hosted by the National Ag Law Center, the National Association of Attorneys General, and the Agriculture and Food Law Consortium.
Hutchinson said he is concerned that trade markets are closing rather than opening and said he hopes the Trump administration’s ongoing dispute over tariffs ends soon.
“And I understand where President Trump is coming from, that we need to rebalance trade,” he said. “And China indicated that China would buy more agricultural commodities in order to rebalance that trade. It is important that they make more progress in terms of technology and protecting our intellectual property that is open and accessible to them. They need to make some changes, but I am anxious to get to the point where President Trump can declare a victory in the tariff war and we can move on.”
Hutchinson told attendees that agriculture is the state’s top industry, with tourism second, and that the state would like to grow technology businesses related to agriculture. The state has several accelerator programs that bring startup technologies to Arkansas to be mentored and find capital investment.
“I want to challenge everybody that we have money to devote to a technology accelerator program in the field of agriculture,” he said. “We think that’s important where you bring the latest, the brightest, and the best across the United States to look at new technologies, disruptive technologies in agriculture, to see how market opportunity is there, to see if there is a good fit. Obviously, we’d like to see that located in Arkansas.”
Also, the governor announced Thursday that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Central Arkansas are creating a Governor’s I-40 Showdown where points will be assigned to the school winning head-to-head events in 11 sports over the course of the school year.
The two state-sponsored schools have played each other in different sports in years past, but 2018-19 will see the creation of the Showdown. Teams will compete in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s and women’s golf. All of those sports will be involved in the Showdown next year except women’s basketball, which will be added in 2019-2020.
The school with the most total points will have its name engraved on the Governor’s Trophy, which will be housed on that campus for the next year. The trophy will be awarded at the two schools’ final competition, the annual baseball game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.
Hutchinson said the two schools approached him and suggested the name. He unveiled the logo at the announcement at the Capitol.
Dr. Brad Teague, UCA director of athletics, said the Showdown was the brainchild of Chase Conque, UA Little Rock director of athletics. He said it is modeled on programs in other states.
“In-state competition makes sense. Why not?” he said. “Why wouldn’t we want to do this? I mean, it’s big time. This is a big-time announcement, and we’re proud of it. It’s great for our fans. It’s great for our student athletes. It’s certainly great for our institutions in the state. And it’s great for the budget.”