Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Hutchinson touts accomplishments

By Staff, 08/7/18 11:14 AM

PRESCOTT – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson stopped in Prescott Tuesday morning, as part of his agriculture tour of the state.

He told the packed conference room at the Nevada County Library he wanted to talk about economic development and other issues, saying it was important for him to stop in Prescott. Hutchinson began by saying Nevada County has a great economic development team and the proximity to Interstate 30 is good incentive to potential business and industry, especially as land has been set aside.

He talked about the success he’s had since taking office in bringing jobs and industry to the state, adding Arkansas was in the running for a plant from Toyota-Mazda, but couldn’t meet the criteria required.

In talking about his goals, Hutchinson said he wanted to reduce state taxes by $100 million to help spur economic development. This goal was exceeded as taxes have been reduced $150 million, with Hutchinson looking for further cuts, but not at the expense of services. Exemptions were given to retired military personnel to get them to move to Arkansas, which, he said, needs people, especially with the state’s unemployment rate at 3.8 percent. “We need to bring people here.”

He lauded the Prescott School District for having more students taking computer science classes than any district in Southwest Arkansas. Coding was one of his projects when first elected. Arkansas, he said, is not only recognized nationally for this, but leads the nation in computer science education at the high school level. Hutchinson’s goal was to have coding classes in every district in the state as well as making access to high speed broadband internet available to everyone.

While 70,000 jobs have been created in the last four years, Hutchinson said the state needs more people living here to show Arkansas has the workforce required by industry. He talked about bringing those who are discouraged because of being unable to find work and the retired back into the workforce.

In looking at the 2019 session of the legislature, Hutchinson said he wants to continue the path to make the state’s tax rate competitive, dropping it from 6.9 percent, which is being done gradually; increase the capability of infrastructure in the state, with high speed broadband internet in all communities. He said long term projects include a highway improvement project, projected to cost $400 million for maintenance and construction, though this figure will have to be scaled back. Such a measure, he added, would be put before the people for the 2020 election. “We need a new revenue stream for highways, but we also need to look at education and focus on job skills,” he said.

While progress has been made in teaching high school students skills business and industry need, more needs to be done so students can find jobs in industry upon graduating from high school. To help with this, the RISE program has been instituted to help all third grade students be able to read at the third grade level, so they don’t fall behind in other areas. This project includes individualized plans for students having problems.

Mary Godwin, executive director of the Prescott-Nevada County Economic Development Office, asked for help in educating the public that economic development isn’t just getting new business and industry, but helping existing industry.

Hutchinson said 2/3 of the state’s efforts are in supporting existing industry, which have the same incentives as new industry when they expand and create more jobs. He talked about Prescott having a great site for its industrial park near I-30, adding it’s important statewide to have good sites available for prospects.

In talking about opportunity zones, Hutchinson said 330 applied but only 85 could be approved and Prescott was one of those approved. These zones offer incentives for those who invest in these specified areas with delays on their capital gains taxes and if they stay 10 years or more, the taxes could go away. However, he added, the state is waiting for federal rules from the Internal Revenue Service, which are being developed, before anything is implemented.

Perry Nelson, superintendent of the Prescott Water and Sewer Department, pointed out infrastructure is more than just highways, and includes underground structures for water and sewer. He said expansion tends to fall on the backs of existing customers, but the impact needs to be lessened to help utilities grow and expand. In this area, he added, expansion is being done with the rural water systems.

Hutchinson said Prescott is ahead of the game with water and sewer infrastructure and hopes Congress passes an infrastructure bill to help.

Bob Cummings, with Centurylink, talked about the difficulties in providing broadband internet to some areas because Union Pacific Railroad refuses to allow the company to bore under the tracks. There was no answer to this.

Robert Poole, superintendent of the PSD, talked about the workforce education being offered locally and being partnered with the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope (UACCH). The district is looking at offering classes geared toward meeting the needs of Firestone so students can go to work there upon graduation.

Godwin said something similar is being done on an area-wide basis with schools working to bring education that benefits particular industries.

Rick McAfee, superintendent of the Nevada School District, said Nevada is doing the same things and also partners with UACCH, but would like to be able to offer courses in the medical field, which are expensive to start and maintain, for students interested.

The topic turned to teacher salaries, with Hutchinson saying he’s raised teacher salaries twice and plans to raise them again. It was pointed out there are major disparities between districts based on what a mill brings.

The question was asked why teacher salaries can’t be standardized like those of state employees, based on employment grade. Hutchinson said this is an interesting concept, but would be expensive because salaries would have to be raised at the highest level, not the lowest. He quickly changed the subject.

Judy Duke, curator of the Nevada County Depot and Museum, talked about acquiring two Civil War battlefields to be used for historic tourism. Hutchinson said tourism is the state’s second largest industry, behind agriculture.

Dale Booker, 911 coordinator, asked for help getting people to sign up for Smart 911. Hutchinson agreed the state needs to invest more in its 911 systems to increase efficiency, but offered no suggestion to help with Booker’s problem.

He spoke briefly on the tariff war, saying tariff’s need to be lowered, not raised, as this would help industry. China, he added, needs to buy more agricultural products. “We need to get back to low or zero tariff,” he said. “This is problematic and not ideal for farmers. I hope we can move away from the tariff war.”