A study released Thursday by the Brookings Institution and the Walton Family Foundation looks at the economic health of a 19 state region in the middle of the country, including Arkansas.
"The State of the Heartland : Factbook 2018" uses socioeconomic factors to look at the how the area’s economy has been performing in recent years compared to the rest of the country. The full report can be found here.
Ross DeVol, a Walton Fellow and one of the report’s authors, spoke with KUAR News about the findings. Below are some interview highlights.
GOAL OF THE RESEARCH
"The goal was to have a common frame of reference for people who are wanting to understand the broad economic performance of the heartland, the center of the country, relative to the rest of the country. Rather than allow perceptions to rule the day, we decided to put together facts so we could all have a common framework to evaluate how we’re doing here in the center of the country verses the rest of the country."
PERCEPTIONS VERSES REALITY
"There’s this perception, especially on the west coast and the east coast, that the center of the country has lagged substantially behind the rest of the country. But on many indicators, and actually out of the 27 that we compiled, the heartland does better than about 25 of them, and one of the reasons for that was we adjusted for the difference in cost of living in one location verses another. So as housing prices and other costs, on the west coast especially, escalate quite rapidly, whatever wage you earn goes toward paying for higher housing costs. Well once you adjust for the differences in what you can purchase with your income, the heartland, the center of the country, actually does much better than you might think."
"We’ve seen average wage increases here in the center of the country, including Arkansas, which actually had real wage gains when you adjust for inflation above the heartland average essentially matching the non-heartland area. So you’ve seen much better performance here than you might hear about on one of the weekend talk shows when they’re talking about this part of the country."
CHALLENGES FACING THE HEARTLAND
"Probably the biggest challenges we face are making sure that we have entrepreneurs who are starting companies get access to early stage risk capital. Also, the heartland doesn’t invest as much as many of the coastal areas do. So I would say the other major area we need to improve upon is post-secondary education. Average educational attainment is substantially below the coasts and that’s an area where we need to continue investing here because there’s a very high rate of return to having more adults with a bachelor’s degree or above."
HOW TO ACHIEVE MORE HIGHER EDUCATION
"One area that I think we need to focus on here in the center of the country is we have some outstanding research universities, but we haven’t been as successful in supporting the infrastructure within the universities to encourage new firms being started out of that research, whether it’s by academic faculty, or licensing intellectual property, to existing firms, and I think with the right focus, that’s an area that the heartland can do much better. Greater utilization of its universities through research, discovery, commercialization, and also improving access to higher education."