Arkansas is the right place for the aerospace and defense industry, Governor Asa Hutchinson told attendees of the 2021 Mid America Aerospace and Defense Summit in Fort Smith on Wednesday, June 9. The reasons are many and the focus on sustaining and growing is strong, he said.
“There is pride in every Arkansan for this industry,” Hutchinson said. “We have a certain affinity for (the industry). Our patriotic spirit comes out – red, white and blue – and says, “We value the aerospace and defense industry here in Arkansas.”
The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a driving force for the Arkansas economy, Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said.
“This is a key factor for any state that really gets involved and says aerospace defense will be a leader in our state. We were able to do it in Arkansas. It is the number one export that we have, representing an impact of nearly 800 million dollars of exports, more than 10,000 jobs and 2 billion dollars plus a total economic impact in our State ”, he said. -he declares.
Arkansas is home to 180 aviation and aerospace companies, which represent and touch just about every corner of the state. The Fort Smith summit was hosted by the Arkansas Aerospace and Defense Alliance.
“As a state, there isn’t a community that is unaffected by the aerospace defense industry,” Preston said, adding that the sector has been a major target for commercialization of companies. in Arkansas.
The governor used the announcement of the new F-35 and F-16 military mission at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith as an example of the state’s commitment to attract and retain business and aerospace and defense industry projects. Hutchinson announced Tuesday, June 8 that Arkansas would put in place $ 17 million to extend the base track by an additional 1,300 feet. The city of Fort Smith has committed $ 5 million to extend the runway. The extension was necessary to “seal the deal” for the project, Hutchinson said.
“What we did in this project is no different than what we will do in supporting (other projects) because we want to see success. We want to see (this industry) be able to grow, ”Hutchinson said.
Arkansas’ workforce also sets it apart from the competition when it comes to attracting industry, Hutchinson and Preston said.
“Historically, the workforce is skilled in the manufacturing sector. We rank sixth in the country for the percentage of our workforce trained in manufacturing. It’s an environment that many states envy, and this skilled workforce is ideal for the aerospace and defense industry, ”said Hutchinson.
Preston said that doesn’t mean communities can relax as competition for workers is intense.
“Everyone, this industry included, is competing for workers. Coming out of this pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of dynamics shift and shift, ”Preston said. “It has changed our workforce. We have seen the labor pool shrink during this pandemic. What is going to make a difference with these jobs in the defense aerospace industry is that they pay a much higher rate than the other industries around them. I think this will encourage people to re-enter the labor market. “
The key to industry growth in the state is to continue to look at the future of the workforce through the education system. Hutchinson said expanding computer education in high schools is key.
Preston said a clear delivery system between education – universities, colleges, technical schools, vocational schools and high schools – and industry is key. He noted that what the Fort Smith industry has accomplished with Fort Smith Public Schools and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith through the Peak Innovation Center, a regional career and technology center, is a shining example of what can and should be done statewide. .
“This is what is going to set us apart in the future,” Preston said. “If we can replicate what’s going on here in Fort Smith across the state, I think we’re going to do well. “
Geographically, Arkansas is suitable for the industry, Hutchinson said, noting that it is “right in the middle of the action.”
The state’s commitment to invest in infrastructure is also an attraction. Hutchinson said he hopes there will be an infrastructure package from Washington that will be the right size and focus on the right areas, but regardless of the people of Arkansas recognized the need for investing in infrastructure by passing the largest infrastructure investment in state history when it passed the first issue in 2020, the permanent half-cent sales tax for roads.
“Our citizens realize that getting our products to market is important to our farmers, but it is also important to attract and grow the industry,” Hutchinson said.
Creating a business environment conducive to growth has also helped the state, Preston said, noting that the state’s balanced budget and growing surplus are attractive to recruiting companies.
“It gives us the tools to get in and sell to the industry that Arkansas is a viable and safe place for their investment. They can come here and see that we are going to continue to balance our budget. We’re not going to have to do an about-face and raise taxes for individuals and businesses, ”Preston said. “We are very well positioned for the future.
The state currently has a budget surplus of nearly $ 1 billion, Hutchinson said, which will keep taxes lower. In addition, military retirees do not pay state income tax.
Col. David Allen, commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, said military retirees and Air National Guard members can be key in meeting the workforce needs of the aerospace industry and defense.
“Workforce is a problem in all industries, members of the 188th and 189th are an answer to the workforce problems of the future,” Allen said. “We are constantly looking for ways to share talents, ideas to meet our needs at the same time. “