New Strategy Positions Arkansas Economy for Rebound and Expansion Post-Pandemic

The State of Arkansas in partnership with think tank Heartland Forward releases tailored strategy to position state as a post-pandemic leader

Bentonville, Arkansas, UNITED STATES


BENTONVILLE, Ark., July 07, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, think tank Heartland Forward published a new report, the Arkansas Economic Recovery Strategy, that offers guidance to Arkansas policymakers seeking to bolster the state's economic rebound and growth as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Heartland Forward analyzed comprehensive data across six key economic areas for the report, which was commissioned by the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force: talent and workforce; innovation and research; entrepreneurship and small business; health care; supply chain resilience; and high-speed internet. Informed by an extensive analysis of Arkansas' strengths, weaknesses and qualitative data from interviews, the report found that Arkansas policymakers have an opportunity to demonstrate that Arkansas punches above its weight class and can be a national leader in many areas.

“Arkansas’ natural beauty, economic resilience, and robust workforce are the keys to dynamic economic growth,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “A custom-made strategy such as this that considers the needs of all regions of the state is essential as we move out of the pandemic and return to the booming economy we were building before COVID-19.”

 

Arkansas was hard-hit by the pandemic. The state's high rate of chronic health conditions, and in some cases, the urban-rural digital divide, exacerbated the impact. In some Arkansas counties, more than 35 percent of households have no access to internet— an essential element of working and learning from home. Despite this, the report found that Arkansas boasts an array of qualities including affordable housing, family-friendly communities and natural amenities. The state has yet to reach its economic potential, ranking second in the nation for the share of its workforce in skilled trades, and touting powerhouses such as Tyson Foods, the University of Arkansas system, Murphy USA, Windstream, J.B. Hunt, Walmart, ArcBest, and Dillard’s.

"Suffice it to say, like the rest of the nation, it has been a challenging year for the state of Arkansas. Just as the impact of the pandemic has varied by state, approaches to economic recovery should as well—this is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor," said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. "We're inspired to share this strategy for the recovery of our home state and honored that Governor Hutchinson's Task Force is bringing these important findings to the table."

The report outlines specific recommendations for Arkansas policymakers, including expanding workforce apprenticeship programs, building upon remote incentive programs such as Life Works Here, maintaining reimbursement parity for telemedicine for rural residents, and deploying digital divide initiatives such as Heartland Forward's Connectivity Corps. With targeted action, Arkansas can equip itself to tap into the national knowledge-based economy and attract dynamic talent.

"The strategy outlined by Heartland Forward is aspirational and embodies just the type of big thinking that our state needs right now," said Steuart Walton, chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force. "Stakeholders from every corner of this state helped inform this report and it will take that same approach to make these big ideas become a reality. I am honored to have been a part of this work and proud to be an Arkansan.”

Heartland Forward is delivering its strategy proposal to the Economic Recovery Task Force at a critical time as Governor Hutchinson steps into his role as Chair of the National Governors Association. Policymakers across all 50 states are in search of a blueprint for recovery, and the proposed strategy positions Arkansas to demonstrate what states can accomplish with a nuanced approach such as Heartland Forward has prepared.

The full report can be found here.

About Heartland Forward: Heartland Forward's mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. We conduct independent, data-driven research to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. Recently, it launched its inaugural program -- an idea accelerator, in Oxford, Miss., and Tulsa, Okla., as part of Heartland Forward’s Community Growth Program and Toolkit. The CGPT is providing communities with the resources needed to help inspire new ideas, build upon existing programs and connect with resources to achieve success. It also hosts a flagship event in Bentonville, Ark, called Heartland Summit.

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