In Arkansas, we have worked hard to retain and recruit industry. In the past three years, our Arkansas Economic Development Commission, led by Mike Preston, has signed 338 incentive agreements, which has led to $7.8 billion in investment and to the creation of 13,000 jobs.

But there is plenty more business out there, and I’m always looking for ways to get it. We have hit upon a new program that will make Arkansas even more competitive than we’ve been. This week, Mike joined me to announce the launch of the program, which will step up our economic momentum.

The program, called Competitive Communities Initiative, offers cities the chance to earn an AEDC “stamp of approval” that will help prospective businesses scout out the best places to do business.

Site selectors are looking for cities with an environment and infrastructure that allow for a speedy and uncomplicated opening.

With the Competitive Communities Initiative, our economic development team will provide a checklist so that communities can assess their readiness in many areas, from workforce to infrastructure. They will inventory physical attributes, from the number and size of vacant buildings that are available for quick occupancy to the amount of land with easy access to a water supply or a rail spur.

Once a community has identified its shortcomings, then the economic development team will assist in filling the gaps.

Four pilot cities – Hope, Helena-West Helena, Newport, and Van Buren – started the process before Christmas. Sixteen more cities have committed to participate.

After a community has identified and modified, the economic development team will certify it as ready to do business and will include it on the website so that potential investors can easily find a city or area that fits its needs. We can certify you as a community that has been found ready for economic development.

Here’s why this program is important. While we have had great success in developing and growing our economy by attracting much new investment, we haven’t won every competition for new partners. We still have opportunities to recruit new business and grow our existing industries.

But the competition is fierce, and other states have more than brown and green fields that are shovel-ready. They have turn-key sites with infrastructure that is ready to go. 

With Competitive Communities Initiative, we are taking our game to a higher level so that when a company expresses interest and is in a hurry to get going, we must be up to speed at both the state and local level.

My father-in-law was in the tire business, and he always said, “You can’t sell tires from an empty wagon.”          

What we can accomplish through Competitive Communities Initiative is to ensure that our wagon is full—that we have the computer coders, the welders, the machinists, the funding, and the infrastructure that will make Arkansas the natural state for site selectors. When companies come calling, we want them to see that our wagon is full.

With all the talk of economic development, we must remember that this isn’t just about attracting money and business. My motivation behind this is my desire to make life better for all Arkansans.