A New Tool for High-Tech Opportunities08/18/2017
In Arkansas, we have a high-tech wind at our back. We are becoming a microhub for technology companies and entrepreneurs.
The difference between what was happening in our state two years ago and now is like the difference between a Commodore 64 computer and the latest smart phone.
Teachers around the state have seized the opportunity to learn computer coding so that they can teach it in the classroom. Our students understand that computer science opens a world of opportunities and can lead to a great-paying and satisfying career. Since the launch of my Computer Coding Initiative in 2015, enrollment in computer-coding classes has increased by 400 percent. The classes are so popular that some schools now have a waiting list.
Today, teachers have opportunities that didn’t exist before we started our push for computer science education; we are giving them the training and the resources to push their students to excel in computer science.
Companies are moving to Arkansas because their leaders recognize that we are creating a computer-savvy workforce. National publications like Wired and StateScoop have written that Arkansas is a leader in promoting computer science in education.
This week, Arkansas took another big step forward with the launch of our new website – ArTechJobs.com. ArTechJobs is a one-stop employment shop. As of today, more than 50 companies have posted openings for nearly 150 technology jobs.
This addition to our high-tech portfolio will make it easy for employers to find high-quality employees. ArTechJobs is the brainchild of the ARCodeKids non-profit and the Information Network of Arkansas Board, which created the website at no cost to the state.
It is gratifying to see enthusiastic people at so many levels catch the vision and build the foundation that is attracting young people into computer science at a phenomenal pace.
Arkansas was the first state to require computer coding instruction in all public high schools, and now we are the first state with a website to match employers with potential employees.
Next week, I will hit the road for my fifth computer coding tour. The seven high schools on our itinerary are Harrison, Alpena, Green Forest, Beebe, Forrest City, Lakeside and Hot Springs.
In the first eight months of 2017, not only have we sponsored two coding tours and launched the website, ArTechJobs.com, we also became the sixth state to connect 100 percent of its school systems to high-speed broadband internet. Stay tuned for more high-tech news as Arkansas steps up to meet high-tech challenges of the future.
Public-Private Cooperation Empowers Students08/11/2017
In a little school district in Northwest Arkansas, educators and business leaders are putting their heads together to find ways to teach students important life skills and prepare them to enter the workforce.
It all began a couple of years ago when local employers told the educators that their high school graduates weren’t prepared to begin a technical career. The educators, surprised and alarmed at that news, reacted perfectly. Rather than bristle or make excuses, leaders put their heads together and thought big. They came up with the idea for a career and technical center and presented it to McKee Foods, a local industry that is a key employer in the area.
The company liked the idea, and together, leaders of private industry and public education campaigned for a millage increase to pay for the center and to build a new intermediate school.
On Tuesday, I helped to cut the ribbon for Gentry’s Career and Technical Center, which will offer diesel engine maintenance, information technology and certified nursing.
In addition to learning their trade, the students will hone life skills such as showing up on time, clocking in at the center and keeping up with an “employee” badge.
Assistant Superintendent Christie Toland says the district is incorporating life-skills training in the lower grades to reach students earlier. As Mrs. Toland explains it, most tests measure academic achievement, but teachers want to instill life skills that those tests don’t measure. Those life skills are essential to have success in holding a job.
This cooperation between public schools and a private company is inspiring students. By affirming the notion that college isn’t the only path to an honorable, satisfying career, we free up students to open their minds to a future in a wider range of great-paying skilled occupations.
James Berry, who is the superintendent of the trucking fleet at McKee, agrees. He told a Democrat-Gazette reporter that maintaining trucks is a career path at McKee. He said, “There's not a person managing in our company who didn't start by working on trucks. That's how you become a supervisor.”
Likewise, those who take the certified nursing route will find many career options, including work in X-ray, phlebotomy and personal care.
In another show of cooperation and efficiency, schools in Gentry, Gravette, Siloam Springs and Bentonville each offer different technical courses. A Gravette student who wants to work on diesel engines may take the class in Gentry, for instance.
Students who choose a career in diesel engine repair will find plenty of opportunities right here in Arkansas, with companies like McKee, Walmart and J.B. Hunt using our state as a logistical hub.
This is great news both for our state and for industries who are considering relocating to Arkansas. We are building a strong and skilled workforce in a wide variety of fields.
On Tuesday, we cut the ribbon for the Career and Technical Center. This morning, they broke ground for the new intermediate school. It has been a busy week in Gentry, and a great week for our state, as another school district makes investments that will empower the future of Arkansas’ workforce – our students.
The Unexpected in Fort Smith08/04/2017
If you haven’t visited Fort Smith in the last couple of years, I recommend that you add it to your list of places to see. You will see some things you might not expect in Arkansas’ second-largest city.
Fort Smith has imagined its downtown as a blank canvas and turned the artists loose in an art festival that leaders have officially named Unexpected. As one newspaper headline expressed it last year, Fort Smith has created The Art of the Unexpected.
For the third year in a row, artists from all over the world traveled to Fort Smith to paint sky-scraping murals on the exterior walls of many of the city’s buildings.
I had the privilege of participating in a small way last Friday when I spoke at the unveiling of one of the most unexpected mural projects so far – the recreation yard at the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center. With the help of 10 young inmates, London artist Lakwena spent the week livening up the four walls with a mural.
The idea for the mural occurred to Lieutenant Leslie Asbury a couple of years ago. He suggested the idea to co-workers, including Captain Chris Landrum, who is the administrator of the detention center. Eventually, the Fort Smith Leadership 2016 class undertook the project.
Ten detainees – six young men and four young women – helped Lakwena paint her mural, which incorporated the title of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
Lieutenant Josh Heidelberg was one of the people who helped paint. He called the project a “heaven-sent blessing” because so many in the community put time into the mural for children in trouble with the law.
The officers say the mural makes the rec yard feel bigger, and they appreciate Lakwena’s desire to give hope to the youthful inmates.
Unexpected is brightening up Fort Smith. The artists are creating colorful reasons for people to visit. But the mural in the detention center takes the project to a higher level.
Maybe the flash of beauty inside this grim place will be the inspiration for a young person to turn from the life that landed him in custody. This concern for troubled youth is one way we will truly change our cities.
In December, Fort Smith will kick off its celebration of the 200th anniversary of its founding. Thanks to the leaders and the artists, Fort Smith has a good start on the next couple of centuries.
New Market for Arkansas Rice07/28/2017
If everything goes according to plan, Arkansas will be selling rice to China. This is possible because Sonny Perdue, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recently signed an agreement that allows U.S. farmers to sell rice to China for the first time in history.
This is great news for our farmers in Arkansas. We grow as much rice as the other forty-nine states combined. This deal opens up very a profitable market for the state’s growers. In 2015, Arkansas farmers raised over 200 million bushels of rice on 1.3 million acres. That’s about 4.5 billion pounds. This is good news for China, too, because the Chinese will add quality Arkansas rice to their menu.
While that may sound like a lot, it’s a drop in the bucket for China’s population of 1.4 billion people. Dr. Jarrod Hardke, who still grows rice on the family farm in Carlisle, has worked out the math. Arkansas is responsible for fifty percent of U.S. rice production. China, which consumes eighty percent of the world’s rice, could consume Arkansas’s entire annual harvest in one week. Of course, China will not purchase that much rice but it shows the vastness of the new market.
While Americans eat an average of twenty-five pounds of rice per person per year, the Chinese eat approximately 225 pounds each. If Arkansas exported its entire crop of rice to China, it would make up three percent of the annual consumption of rice in that country. In other words, this agreement is going to give Arkansas farmers access to a massive market with outstanding potential for growth.
The last remaining hurdle to begin rice exports to China is for the country to send its inspectors to visit U.S. rice mills to certify that the mills meet China’s sanitation standards. Dr. Hardke, who works for the University of Arkansas Agriculture Division, has visited most of the state’s mills, and predicts they will more than satisfy China’s expectations. The level of food safety in Arkansas’ mills is extremely high.
Our hope is that Arkansas will be cleared to ship its first batch of rice to China soon after the first of the year. In the meantime, Arkansas rice farmers are tending to this year’s crop. Many of them are still recovering from the storms that raked through northeast Arkansas in April and May. Dr. Hardke and others estimate the state lost about one hundred-thousand acres of rice, or roughly ten percent of our total crop output. But if you know anything about Arkansas farmers - you know they are some of the most resilient people around – and in light of this new export agreement, I am confident they will bounce back stronger than ever.
Rice already has a billion-dollar impact on Arkansas’ economy, but opening exports to China will be a game-changer for the industry. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called the agreement an “exceptional opportunity with enormous potential for growth”. He went on to say, “this agreement has been in the works for more than a decade and I’m pleased to see it finally come to fruition, especially knowing how it will benefit our growers and industry.”
Here in Arkansas, we too, are glad that we have finally reached an agreement to export U.S. rice to China. We are pleased to continue building a strong relationship with China that will boost our economy and create more jobs for Arkansans all across the state.
Connecting Arkansas Schools07/21/2017
This Thursday, a large crowd gathered in the Glen Rose High School cafeteria near Malvern to celebrate as Arkansas became the sixth state to connect its entire public school system to highly secure, all-fiber high-speed broadband internet. This was the high-tech equivalent of a ribbon cutting.
I had the privilege of plugging the fourth and last internet cable into a computer switch, which set off the flashing green lights to signify we had accomplished our mission.
As of late Wednesday, when the Spring Hill district near Hope went online, every single public school in Arkansas is connected to the internet.
Every single school includes rural districts like Hamburg and McGehee in the Delta, and Maynard and Marmaduke in northeast Arkansas. The smallest districts in our state have fewer than 500 students and administrators as users. The smallest is Strong-Huttig with 430 users. The number of users at Glen Rose is 1,078.
This accomplishment levels the playing field for rural- and small-town schools. Now students in places like Gravette, my hometown of 2,300, can get their hands on every bit of information that is available to students in Fayetteville and Little Rock. Geography no longer will dictate which Arkansans have access to learning and opens broad opportunities for many that previous generations haven’t enjoyed.
Arkansas is one of only six states to meet the federal target for every state to provide at least 100 kilobits per second per student in 100 percent of its school districts. But our leaders weren’t satisfied with just leading the way. With the state’s buying power, Arkansas was able to double the federal goal and provide 200 kilobits per second per user.
I initiated this in April 2015 with a directive to the Department of Information Systems and the Department of Education to meet the federal challenge and connect all our schools. At that time, only 58 percent of Arkansas districts met the federal target. Now 100 percent are connected.
Johnny Key, commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, said that with this upgrade, “the learning opportunities for all students are endless.”
Yessica Jones, director of the Department of Information Systems, joined me on the stage and plugged in a cord on Thursday.
Director Jones said: “Arkansas is a rural state, and many of our school districts were falling into that digital divide cited in study after study of the national broadband environment.”
I didn’t know exactly how this one-hundred-percent connectivity project would look, but I knew for sure that the Department of Information Systems and the Department of Education would get the job done. They did, and the final product looks grand. Not only are we leading the way, we surpassed the federal goals and set a standard for the rest of the nation. And our students are the real winners.
Arkansas’ Blackberry King07/14/2017
One of my fond memories as a child was picking blackberries on our Gravette farm. And one of my best memories as a parent was picking blackberries with my children.
That brings me to Dr. John Clark, a professor at the University of Arkansas who has employed all sorts of science-based technology in grape orchards and blackberry patches as he works to improve and expand varieties at the fruit research station in Clarksville.
In the world of fruit production, Dr. Clark is a celebrity. He was in Charlottesville, Virginia, this week to spread the news about Arkansas’s two new varieties of wine grapes, which he has named Enchantment and Opportunity. The last variety he named in honor of the Natural State because our motto used to be “Arkansas – Land of Opportunity.”
Dr. Clark grew up milking cows on his family’s farm in Mississippi.
He likes to tell people that one of his goals as a child “was to not milk cows for a living.”
He says: “I made it, although not everyone would think that working in a briar patch is progress.”
The Cotton Candy grape came from the Clarksville station and is a best seller globally. Dr. Clark said that the Cotton Candy grape is “making a big ol’ buzz all over the world.”
Clark and his colleagues have patented more than 50 varieties of fruit, but blackberries are the most important crop. Dr. Clark notes that the team is “trying to make blackberries taste better, look pretty, get the thorns off, make them firm, and fight disease.”
The station also has bred a variety that produce berries twice a year.
He said, “That’s probably about the biggest thing to happen in blackberry breeding.”
One aspect of the program that I really appreciate is that fruit station’s success helps to pay for itself. Dr. Clark said his department has a “broad and thorough intellectual property program. This allows people to buy plants, and they pay royalties on them. This brings support in from other states and countries. They pay to grow them. It’s nothing but positive.”
Dr. Clark spent most of June in the blackberry patch, picking through the forty acres of plants, looking for the traits they have attempted to breed into the canes. His investigation, of course, includes frequent sampling to ensure the berries taste up to his standard.
Although Dr. Clark was born a Mississippian, he has lived more than half of his 60 years in Arkansas peach and nectarine orchards, and blueberry and blackberry patches.
And so what Dr. Clark does with fruit research is great for those of us who love berries, but it is also a boost to our economy, and he supports our small-farm operations.
Thank you, Dr. Clark.
Working Together for a Safer Little Rock07/07/2017
Over the past several months, we have seen an escalation of violence in Little Rock.
Last weekend’s shooting of 25 people in the Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock brought the problem of violence in Little Rock into sharp focus.
In the days after the shooting, I decided it was time to ask whether there was a way that the state could assist Little Rock. The department is 70 officers short.
The Little Rock Police Department is working hard to stop the violence, but with its shortage, the department can’t respond to every complaint. The department needs additional resources to target, investigate and respond to the current threats.
In my conversations this week with the Little Rock Police chief, state and local law enforcement officials, and other community leaders, it was clear we can do more together. On Thursday, I announced the creation of a joint investigative group that will combine the strength of law enforcement at all levels to gather intelligence and target violent criminals.
Agents from the FBI, Arkansas State Police, Little Rock Police Department and Pulaski County sheriff’s office will work together on their joint investigative group.
In addition to this effort, the Department of Community Correction will provide more intensive supervision of parolees and probationers with known gang affiliation in the Little Rock area.
Finally, beginning this week, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division will begin more closely monitoring Pulaski County establishments and enforcing closing times with a presence of an ABC agent to assure proper closing.
Leaders of the various agencies joined me to announce these initiatives at the capitol on Thursday. Diane Upchurch, special agent in charge of the FBI division in Little Rock, offered a word of warning for the criminals who are shooting up the streets: “We are here to take back the streets.”
The looming cloud of violence harms us all … not just Little Rock but the entire state. Little Rock is our seat of government and a center for tourism, medical services and economic development.
From my experience as a federal prosecutor, as director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and as undersecretary with Homeland Security after 9/11, I know that the key to getting the bad guys off the street is cooperation across jurisdictions.
But I want to emphasize this is a matter for local law-enforcement that the City of Little Rock must solve. The outside agencies are here only to support as we are needed.
Local leaders have pointed out that this is more than a crime problem. This is about opportunity, hope, job training, education, mental-health treatment and investment in our youth.
I agree totally. But today the urgent need is to free our streets from the grip of violence. This is about identifying violent offenders and locking them up.
This joint investigative effort begins immediately.
A reporter asked me as to how we will measure success. We will know this initiative is successful when we can walk down our streets without fear.
241 Years Later, America Still Celebrating06/30/2017
As the United States heads towards its 241st birthday, Arkansans are stocking up on charcoal and propane, and business is booming at the fireworks stands.
John Adams, our second president, foresaw all this celebratory hoopla even as he was helping to craft the Declaration of Independence.
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated … as the great anniversary festival,” he wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.
“It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.
“It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward,” he said.
In Arkansas, John Adams would be delighted with our celebrations in this state. We celebrate our independence from one corner of the state to the other, from Beebe, Bentonville, Bismarck and Bull Shoals to Colt, Mount Ida, Siloam Springs, Corning and Piggott.
One of the great traditions is the Fourth celebrations in northeast Arkansas. Cities like Piggott, Corning and Portia are places that families and politicians love to go.
Every governor for the past fifty years has attended the event.
I went to my first picnic in 1986, and I have attended periodically since then. I was there during my campaign for governor in 2014, so maybe Piggott is a key to success.
July 4th at Piggott offers the chance to celebrate in the small-town family-friendly way many of us remember the Fourth of July.
The picnic began in 1936 as a fundraiser for the Piggott Cemetery. Fred Ort is president of the Cemetery Association, which receives about $30,000 from the picnic every year. Organizers expect as many as 4,000 people this year. Remember, the population of Piggott is only 3,800.
The picnic is an all-day affair that starts with a parade that travels from the city square to Liberty Park. This year, for the 90th anniversary, the parade will include veterans from every war and conflict since World War II. Kids ride their bicycles. Farmers drive their antique tractors. For seventy years, the Choate family from Searcy brought their carnival to the picnic.
Mayor Jim Poole has lived in Piggott since he was 12, but his grandparents moved there in 1922, long before the founding of the picnic. He has been to most of them, and he says, “It’s almost Christmas in July.
“Out-of-towners come home for family reunions and class reunions. I still get excited, just like when I was a kid. I can’t get that out of my system.”
Many of us still feel the same way about July 4th. My family will share hamburgers and homemade ice cream.
It is clear from John Adams’ letter to his wife that he understood the price of what the founders had set in motion. And his optimism is clear.
He said, “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction.”
We can celebrate the Fourth of July because of leaders such as John Adams.
Pitching Arkansas Abroad06/23/2017
Governor Hutchinson brings this week's report from Tel Aviv while on his economic trade mission to Europe and Israel.
Last Saturday, I embarked on my sixth international trade mission with Mike Preston, director of our Arkansas Economic Development Commission. These trips have been instrumental in bringing foreign investment and creating jobs in Arkansas. Each time we leave on one of these trade missions, it becomes clear that Arkansas is becoming known as a global leader in trade.
On this trip, we met with key people, both with companies who are currently operating in Arkansas and with companies interested in relocating to our state. The first leg of our journey took us to the Paris International Air Show.
The airshow is a unique opportunity to meet with leaders in the aviation and defense sector. More than 180 aerospace and aviation companies create high-paying jobs across Arkansas, making it one of our state’s top exports. After the Paris Air Show two years ago, we announced Aerojet Rocketdyne’s plans to add 85 jobs and invest $18 million in Calhoun County. As Mike Preston says, these international missions have really put Arkansas on the map as an economic contender. The recognition that we get for our record-low unemployment rate and strong workforce is exciting.
During our time in Europe, we also met with the French companies that currently operate in Arkansas. These companies operate 25 Arkansas facilities and employ more than 3,700 Arkansans. The newest, Sediver, opened a plant in May in West Memphis.
From France, we traveled to Frankfurt and Cologne, Germany. German businesses account for 1,600 jobs in our state, and our newly opened office will increase our opportunities. We had meetings with Lanxess, which employs around 500 Arkansans in El Dorado, and SMS Group, which is a key partner in our Arkansas steel industry.
We’ve just arrived in Israel for the last leg of our mission, and this marks an encouraging new opportunity for Arkansas. With Arkansas’s status as a leader in computer science education, we want Israeli tech companies to know they should look to Arkansas when doing business in the U.S. We also continued our efforts to recruit manufacturers in the firearms industry in our state.
You need to look no further than China’s recent investments in Arkansas to demonstrate the value of these international trips. We have forged relationships with Chinese leaders that have influenced four Chinese companies to establish new facilities in Arkansas. These four companies are investing more than $1.4 billion and creating more than 1,500 jobs for Arkansans. Last month we made the largest job-creation announcement in the history of Arkansas’ Delta Region. China-based Ruyi Technology will create 800 new jobs in Forrest City and invest $410 million in the area. I cannot overstate the impact this investment will have in the Delta.
Over the last five years, foreign direct investment in Arkansas has grown over 40 percent, which places Arkansas among the top states in the nation in growth and foreign investment. Nearly 450 global employers have operations in the state, employing more than 46,000 Arkansans. For us to continue to attract higher paying jobs and generate success in the ever-changing global economy, it is vital to meet business leaders who are willing to develop and invest in our state. I’m honored to lead these missions, which are providing Arkansans with more opportunities for prosperity and are maximizing our economic potential. When we have the opportunity to pitch the strengths of our state abroad, companies take notice, and Arkansas reaps the benefits.
Students Coding to Save Lives06/16/2017
I want to share a computer-coding news scoop about a pair of 13-year-old football playing Arkansans who built a device that has the potential to save the life of dozens of children around the country.
Mason Covington’s and Tyler Duke’s invention was among ten finalists out of 5,000 entries in the 2017 Samsung Solve competition, and the U.S. Patent Office has granted them a patent.
While they were in Washington to demonstrate their new idea to Samsung judges, they also discussed it with Senator Tom Cotton and Representative French Hill. Although their invention wasn’t among the final three, they still brought home $50,000 worth of Samsung technology for their school.
Mason and Tyler are students of a special teacher named Tate Rector at Beebe Junior High. Mr. Rector was a football coach at Beebe for seven years before he switched to teaching coding, robotics, and design and modeling.
At the start of the 2016 school year, Mason and Tyler teamed up with Mr. Rector to work on an after-school robotics project. They wanted to build something that could help people through technology.
Their inspiration came from news of a man who accidentally left his son in a hot car for several hours. Regretfully, the child died from the heat.
With assistance from the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock, the boys designed and built a heat-sensing device that will set off an automobile’s horn and flash its lights when a child is left in a car.
The boys are on the football team, and they worked around practice and games to work on the project. After football season, they stayed after school three and four days a week. They tested it in Mr. Rector’s Jeep, and Mr. Rector well remembers the moment it worked.
The device attaches to a child car-safety seat. The weight of a child in the seat connects the surfaces of a pressure plate. If the engine is off while a child is in the seat, the sensor measures the temperature inside the car. Once the temperature reaches 80, the horn sounds and the lights flash.
They have won the patent at a good time. Last week, the United States Congress passed the Hot Car Act, which will require automakers to install child-reminder devices in all cars built starting in 2018.
Tyler and Mason have invented a device will cost about $50 retail, a small price for saving lives. Drivers won’t have to buy a new car in order to own the child-saving technology.
Tyler and Mason and their teacher have affirmed my commitment to teaching young people to work in technology. Tyler and Mason are two more young people who will help us to attract new companies to Arkansas even as we give our home-grown talent more reason to pursue their professions in their home state.
Opportunities for College Students06/09/2017
It is well known that economic growth for our state is one of my top priorities.
Another of my priorities is a high-quality education system that will increase our workforce with more graduates who can program computers, balance budgets, create new products and in so many other ways improve the opportunities in Arkansas.
With that goal, one of my priorities during the just concluded 91st General Session was legislation to increase the number of Arkansans who further their education beyond high school. The result of that is the Arkansas Future scholarship program, which the Arkansas Department of Higher Education calls ArFuture for short.
We are accepting applications, and the deadline for the 2017-2018 school year has been extended to July 1.
Any prospective college student who has graduated from an Arkansas high school, Arkansas homeschool, or GED program is eligible to apply. And anyone with a high school diploma who has lived in Arkansas for the past three years can apply.
The only requirement is that you must enroll in a high-demand or STEM program and cannot already have a bachelor’s degree. You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and apply through the Department of Higher Education’s online YOUniversal scholarship portal.
Through the ArFuture Grant, we are ensuring that all Arkansans have access to affordable higher education by a grant that pays all tuition and mandatory fees through a two-year college program or technical school.
Our other scholarship program, of course, is the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, which provides approximately 30,000 scholarships each year to in-state residents.
This is a scholarship that is funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. The deadline to apply for that scholarship is June 15. Scholarships are available for four-year schools, two-year programs and approved nursing schools. The amount of the scholarship increases for students who remain in school. We reward students for succeeding in higher education – those who seek a four-year undergraduate degree in biology and those who seek two-year associate degree in welding.
The two important deadlines to remember are June 15 for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship and July 1 for ArFuture. I encourage you to take advantage of the educational opportunities your state offers and join forces to make Arkansas better than ever.
Glenwood is a sawmill town that is on the rebound, and the townsfolk are excited.
I saw this firsthand this week when I went to Glenwood to cut the ribbon for Caddo River Forest Products. Caddo River is a new company that is reopening the old Curtis Bean sawmill that shut down in 2010.
Glenwood is in the part of the state we call the Wood Basket, where you can see the strength of Arkansas’s timber industry in the hundreds of thousands of acres of trees.
The closing of the Bean mill threw three-hundred people out of work. Some people moved away. Others drove long distances to work. School enrollment fell.
Seven years later, though, the sawmill is up and running, backed by investors who know the business. The state has helped, but it was the local support that made the critical difference. In addition, a local café has reopened and a real-estate company is opening an office there.
Billy Plyler is one of the many people I met in the planing shed at the ceremony on Thursday. Billy’s family owns John Plyler’s Home Center, which started as a plumbing store in the 1940s, then added lumber. Now it sells a little bit of everything. The company celebrated its 70th anniversary this year.
Billy, who has lived his entire 63 years in Glenwood, said business has fallen off forty percent over the past seven years. But in the year since Caddo started refurbishing the mill, sales have picked up. Plyler’s even sold Caddo River its new flagpole.
The mill has hired about 100 people already, and every job in the mill represents another job in the logging woods.
Billy is of the opinion that a sawmill creates more indirect jobs than any other industry.
“They have got to have somebody in the woods getting logs to them,” Billy said.
The news is all good. Plyler’s will sell lumber milled at Caddo River. “I hope I’m the first load out of there,” Billy said.
At Thursday’s event, the podium was bordered by thousands of board feet of two-by-sixes that are waiting to be dried and planed. The lumber is evidence that the perseverance and hard work of so many will pay off.
I see a lot of good days ahead as our state is attracting industry from around the world even as we take care of business with our Arkansas-grown industries such as the Caddo River sawmill in Glenwood.
The Forefront of Computer Science Education05/26/2017
If everything about my job was as easy and as much fun as encouraging students to learn to program a computer, I wouldn’t call it work at all.
My granddaughter educated me about coding when she wrote an app that we used during my campaign for governor. I was so impressed, and she was only 11 at the time. So implementing computer coding education became one of my core initiatives.
Two months after I became governor, I signed the law that requires all public and charter schools to teach coding. Arkansas was the first to do so. Three years later, more than 5,000 students all over the state are learning to program. That is nearly a 400 percent increase over four years ago.
On my Fourth Governor’s Coding Tour, I visited the high schools in Russellville, Flippin, Yellville, Sheridan, Watson Chapel, and Mountain Home. In Mountain Home, I met Jackie Meissner. Jackie is a graduate of Mountain Home and returned to her alma mater to teach seven years ago.
Jackie graduated from the University of Arkansas with a master’s degree. As a student at Mountain Home, she was a member of the robotics team. In 2012, she led her students to an international robotics championship.
And then at Sheridan High School, I met Chris Jones. The state coding requirement is the reason Chris Jones got a teaching job at Sheridan.
Chris, who grew up in Bryant, was a business major. He was applying to teach business at Sheridan. But what principal Rodney Jones really needed was a computer science teacher.
Chris had practically no knowledge of coding. In fact, his only experience was two weeks of self-taught coding as a student teacher at Central High.
Principal Jones asked Chris whether he would be willing to teach computer science.
Chris said: “I would have said anything to get the job. [I said] ‘Of course I would.’”
So in the summer of 2016, Chris took advantage of a governor’s stipend to study coding at Henderson State.
After only two years with the program, Sheridan will offer an AP class in computer coding in the fall of 2017.
Teachers like Chris and Jackie have led Arkansas to the forefront of computer science education in the nation. As our reputation spreads, and businesses look more and more to move to Arkansas, we can offer them a well-educated work force.
With the enthusiasm and skill I saw on the fourth coding tour, I returned to Little Rock with plenty to brag about when we recruit companies to do business in this state.
*Click HERE to view the recap of the Fourth Governor's Coding Tour.
The MyIdea Project05/19/2017
From the day I took office in January 2015, one of my primary goals has been to cut out unnecessary government and to streamline the parts of government that are worth keeping. I want to transform Arkansas state government.
On Thursday, we launched a program we are confident will accelerate that transformation. I am confident this will succeed because we are tapping into the best resource available: the 3 million people who live in Arkansas.
We call this project MyIdea. MyIdea is a statewide high-tech suggestion box that allows anyone with an idea and access to a computer or a telephone to submit tips for trimming government or improving government service.
Some of the nation’s most successful products were discovered in employee suggestion boxes, including 3M’s Post-it notes and Amazon-dot-com’s Prime membership program.
But MyIdea is not an employee suggestion box. It is for every citizen to make suggestions on how we can do better in state government.
To quote Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
MyIdea gives you a direct line to tell us how we can improve the delivery of services for the customer.
The three-step process is simple: Go to the website, which is MyIdea.arkansas.gov.
In the first box, we will ask you to tell us your idea.
In the second box, we will ask you to tell us how to implement your idea.
The last step is to give us information about yourself and how to contact you, although that is not required. We will accept anonymous suggestions. If you would prefer to offer your idea by phone, the number is 844-7-MYIDEA.
We will monitor the agencies as they consider your suggestions. Employees of the state’s Department of Finance will monitor the website and phones. We have not added a single job in state government to implement this initiative.
DFA will forward each idea to the head of the appropriate agency. I have instructed each agency to respond within 30 days. And you will be contacted to thank you for your idea and to let you know if we will be able to use it.
We are launching MyIdea to help me to keep my promise to transform government. In addition, I have appointed Amy Fecher chief transformation officer. Amy is executive vice president of operations for Arkansas Economic Development. In the spirit of MyIdea, Amy accepted this significant addition to her responsibilities without an increase in salary.
The best ideas often come from those who see a process with fresh eyes. I hope to hear from a lot of you.
Arkansans Bounce Back05/12/2017
As the floodwaters in northeast Arkansas recede, we are only beginning to measure the devastation and loss in that corner of our state. I have flown over the area twice, most recently with Sonny Perdue, our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and we observe that the flooding is enormous.
The damage we see in photographs and video is striking, but as Secretary Perdue noted, you have to see the hundreds of square miles of water with your own eyes to begin to understand how bad it is.
The winds and water across the state killed nine Arkansans. We are blessed that the toll of the dead and injured didn’t go higher. We don’t know the exact monetary cost of the damage to dwellings, buildings and crops, but we know it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency started its assessment on Wednesday. Representatives from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Small Business Administration, and local emergency agencies joined FEMA in inspecting about 90 of 400 homes in Washington County this week.
The team rates damage to homes as minor, moderate, damaged or destroyed. Melody Daniel, who is the deputy public information officer for ADEM, reported to my office that the team she accompanied saw major damage to homes.
Some homes were not on the list for inspection because homeowners had not reported damage. “If you have damage, let your local emergency management office know,” Melody said.
The Arkansas Army National Guard deployed 116 soldiers during the height of the storm.
Army National Guard Lieutenant Dalton Shannon coordinated rescues over the hardest-hit counties of Randolph, Clay, Lawrence, White and Prairie. The National Guard and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission agents made more than 50 water rescues in Randolph County alone.
Game and Fish agents picked up residents in boats and transported them to soldiers waiting in National Guard trucks to take them to shelters. The communities took great care of the men and women who arrived to help. Townsfolks cooked for them, washed their clothes, and gave them places to shower and sleep, Lieutenant Shannon said.
In spite of the mind-boggling destruction that Melody Daniel saw, the bigger impression that her trip left on her was the spirit of Arkansans.
As she said, “Arkansas as a state is resilient to disasters.” She saw one woman who was taking a break from the cleanup to work in her flowerbed.
“People were happy someone was there to look at the damage. We bounce back. We work together. That warms my heart, makes me proud.”
I declared a state of emergency for all of Arkansas on May 1. President Trump sent Secretary Perdue, a former farmer and an ex-governor of Georgia, to Arkansas on May 7. We hope for a federal declaration, which will infuse more money into our efforts.
There is little we can do to erase the grief and emotional trauma of this loss. But I hope you will have confidence that we have not forgotten you. We will do everything in our power to help you recover from the physical loss. To repeat Melody Daniel: Arkansans bounce back.
The Courage of Arkansas’s First Responders05/05/2017
On a tour of our state this week, I saw rivers topping levees and creeks covering highways. I saw washed-out roads and houses battered by wind and filled with floodwater.
And over several days, I learned at least seven Arkansans had died in storm-related incidents, including firefighter Doug Deckard, who was chief of the Cove Creek Pearson Fire Department.
Chief Deckard was killed on Saturday when a car struck him as he inspected water lines along Arkansas 25.
Thursday was International Firefighters Day, and Chief Deckard’s death reminds us of the risks that our first responders take to keep us safe. When civilians are fleeing from harm, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and forestry firefighters are running headlong into danger. They often are the first to arrive, and most of the time, they don’t know exactly what they are about to face.
Sometimes, as Chief Deckard’s death reminds us, the difference between a routine call and high danger is nothing more than a rain-slick highway.
Or in the case of Oak Grove Fire Chief Randy Pogue, the danger was from an icy highway.
Chief Pogue was driving a fire truck over icy roads to the scene of an accident near Maumelle in 2014. The truck slipped off the highway and crashed into a ditch. The impact of the crash broke his back. He died a month later of complications from his injuries.
Former Little Rock firefighter Marvin Benton says: “There is no such thing as a routine call.” Marvin suffered burns over 38 percent of his body when a burning house collapsed. “I was burning to death,” he says.
He spent two months in the hospital, and even after two years of rehabilitation, his career as a firefighter was over. He has written a book about his life called “Unfallen Hero.”
But not all of their calls, obviously, end in tragedy. The first responders often save lives. Rusty McClain, who just retired after 25 years with the Wynne fire department, remembers that one of his first calls was a head-on crash in which a young woman’s legs were pinned beneath the dash of her car. Rescuers cut their way into the car and put in two IV lines, which Rusty held. “She survived. She could walk,” Rusty says. And he adds, “That really changed how I looked at my job.
“Sometimes young people or parents will come up and hug you. They remember you from working a wreck.”
In 2014, firefighters dedicated a memorial statue in honor of firefighters who died in the line of duty. With the help of the state legislature and many private contributors, the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial stands as a tribute to the sacrifice of all firefighters, and in memory of those who died protecting others.
The 108 names inscribed on the memorial include Stewart Warren, Ed Hudson and Reginald Robinson, all of whom died in an explosion in West Helena in 1997, and Don Payton and David Carpenter, who died later that year fighting a fire in Mammoth Springs.
And so on this weekend, let’s remember the firefighters and other emergency responders and thank them for their service. And let’s remember the sacrifice of Chief Doug Deckard.
Governor Calls Special Session04/28/2017
On Monday, members of the state legislature will meet in Little Rock to gavel in an extraordinary session of the 91st General Assembly. Though we will take up several items, the primary purpose will be to consider timely reforms to the state’s Medicaid expansion program called Arkansas Works.
Since I took office in 2015, my administration has repeatedly sought waivers from the federal government to allow us to add cost-saving reforms to Arkansas Works. These changes will enable us to tailor the program to the unique needs of our state and ensure that the program is sustainable. I am happy to say that the changes we intend to make are now likely to be approved by the Trump administration. I am confident that the Legislature will authorize the state to formally ask the federal government to approve the proposals.
One of the waivers would allow us to establish work requirements for certain able-bodied adults covered by Arkansas Works. To do this, the Department of Workforce Services will link Arkansas Works participants to career training and job search services. Individuals who participate in these programs will satisfy the work requirement. This is a common-sense reform that will promote personal responsibility and empower Arkansans to climb the economic ladder and to obtain commercial insurance. Arkansans want to work, and this initiative provides the training and opportunities to help them do just that.
The second waiver we are seeking would reduce the income eligibility limit for Arkansas Works from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. This will save $66 million over the next four years and enable us to focus our Medicaid resources on Arkansans who are elderly, disabled, and those in poverty. Those without access to affordable employer-sponsored coverage will be eligible for federal subsidies through the health insurance exchange. As a result, all Arkansans will continue to have access to affordable coverage options.
While Washington continues to debate federal health reform, we are working to ensure that Arkansas’s health care safety net is effective and sustainable. We will continue to take steps to streamline and strengthen Arkansas Works, while also encouraging participation in the private insurance market.
Other items on the agenda for the special session include a bill to increase the transparency of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, bills to consolidate medical marijuana and certain ethics laws passed during the regular legislative session, and a bill to transfer $105 million to a long-term reserve fund. But our primary mission will be to enact conservative reforms to Arkansas Works that will save millions of taxpayer dollars and enable us to tailor a uniquely Arkansas approach to health care. I am asking the legislature to act quickly to approve these waivers so that we can adjourn within three days with a victory for the people of Arkansas.
Arkansas’s National Treasure04/21/2017
We have endured the early mornings and late nights of the 91st legislative session, which is enough to require some rest and recreation out of town.
And with a special session looming in May, the Buffalo River getaway the First Lady and I have planned is looking even more like a really good idea.
I was in law school when I first discovered the Buffalo River, which stretches 153 miles from the headwater to its confluence with the White River. The U.S. government declared the Buffalo a national river in 1972, the first river to earn that distinction.
I have floated the river and enjoyed each bend. I introduced my sons to the river and look forward to enjoying it with my grandchildren.
I treasure the Buffalo River, and I want to keep it healthy.
I am not the only person, obviously, who treasures the river. Some of our writers in our state’s Parks and Tourism Department have spent as much time as anyone on the river, and they have written beautifully about it and its tributaries.
“The Preserve is 1,316 acres of beautiful, rugged Ozark forest bisected by Smith Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River.” And she notes there are more than 10 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, swimming holes and great spots for birding.
She says, “It offers preservation for one of the longest caves in Arkansas and a home for bats. … Sherfield Cave is where the state’s largest colony of Indiana bats hibernates each winter…
“Smith Creek Preserve, along with an easement that The Nature Conservancy purchased … limits disruptions to the endangered bats during hibernation. ... The preserve, which is also home to gray bats, black bears and elk, conserves the surrounding forest necessary for the Indiana bats’ foraging and roosting needs. It also helps ensure the water flowing into the cave and the Buffalo River … remains clean.”
In August 2014, the headline over a story by Democrat-Gazette writer Jack Schnedler said, “Buffalo River waterway is a joy in any season.” In another story, Jack reports on the elk he spotted in Newton County near Ponca. Arkansas’s only herd of elk lives in the Buffalo watershed.
You can read much about the Buffalo River at Parks and Tourism’s website.
Or you can do as the First Lady and I plan to do, and float it for yourself.
Drug Courts: A Compassionate Alternative04/14/2017
This week, I had the privilege of addressing 250 professionals at the Statewide Drug Court Conference in Little Rock. These professionals have embraced a compassionate alternative to prison. Our drug courts give judges and probation and parole officers the freedom to design punishment that fits the person as well as the crime, but still holds them accountable. We personalize consequences and offer a human touch that increases the chance that a person will defeat addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Drug court allows us to tailor the treatment options for participants based upon the strength of their character, rather than their weaknesses. The traditional adversarial system is one of fighting it out. In drug court, both parties are on one team working to encourage success for those who are struggling. By focusing on recovery rather than simple punishment, our drug courts are finding creative ways to help participants battle addiction.
I recently became aware of a new program in Pope County that captures the intent and spirit of drug courts. The agents in the Russellville office realized that a lack of transportation was often an obstacle to success. Using money from an Accountability Court Grant, the drug court has purchased one bicycle and has money for four more. The first individual to take advantage of the bicycle program has not missed a single meeting with the probation office, and now holds a full-time job. The idea “is one of the ways we thought we could increase the chance of staying sober”, according to Lisa Wells who works in the Russellville drug Court.
Drug court cuts costs for states by reducing the number of inmates in state jails. Drug courts also reduce the number of repeat offenders and increases the odds that a user will beat addiction.
Today, nearly 3,000 drug courts operate in the U.S. Of those, 79 are in Arkansas. That number includes 44 drug courts for adults, 13 for juveniles, 1 family drug court, 11 for veterans and 9 for DWI. I have seen the drug fight from many angles — as a community leader, as a member of Congress, as a federal prosecutor, an administrator of the DEA and now as Governor. My heart goes out to the families that struggle with this nightmare.
I appreciate the long hours and the heart the judges and officers of Arkansas’s Drug Court put into this compassionate alternative.
I am serious about reducing drug use in Arkansas. I also want to assure you that I also try to lead by example. In my office, we draw names from the staff for weekly random drug tests. A couple of weeks ago, a representative from the drug-test company drew my name. So I went into a small work room and submitted the inside of my cheek for a swab sample. I am happy to report that I passed.
A drug free Arkansas is a strong Arkansas. I am committed to making Arkansas a better place to live, start a business, or raise a family. I am pleased that Arkansas drug courts are working hard to do the same through providing compassionate and personalized care that provide a way out and a hand up for those in recovery.
Women in Technology04/07/2017
I recently saw the Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures, which prompted me to also read the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. Hidden Figures shares the true story of three African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the early 1960s. Their contributions would prove to be vital to the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space. These incredible women broke countless social barriers to fill a pivotal role during the height of the Space Race when I was growing up. Their contributions to NASA altered history.
Women provide a critical voice in the workplace, but, in some fields, women are clearly underrepresented. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 26 percent of those employed in STEM occupations are women. In Arkansas, we are working to improve that number by encouraging young women to study in these fields to prepare them for careers in business and STEM.
There are currently 5,500 high school students enrolled in computer science courses in Arkansas, and 28 percent of those students are female. This number shows a 49 percent increase in female enrollment in computer science over the previous school year. The percentage of female students involved in computer science has not yet met our goal, but I am confident that our state will continue to see that number rise in coming years.
Arkansas continues to set an example nationally by encouraging young women to engage in STEM fields. Just last month, I was pleased to announce Yessica Jones as the Director of the Department of Information Systems for our state. In addition, she also serves as the State Chief Technology Officer and the State Broadband Manager. Arkansas’s Amy Fecher has also led the way in technology and innovation through her role as Chief Transformation Officer for the state of Arkansas. Both of these leaders have earned national recognition, being named among the Top Women in Technology for 2017 by StateScoop, a national government and technology publication.
Next week, I will attend the Women in IT Conference at the Walton College of Business. I’m looking forward to speaking to the importance of increasing the involvement of women in fields of technology. These leaders serve as an inspiration to other women pursuing STEM careers, and I am confident they will continue to lead the way in advancements in technology in our state.
Altogether, the innovation and entrepreneurship of women in fields of technology play a critical role in enhancing and continuing the development of Arkansas’s technology industry.
In 1961, the "hidden figures" blazed a trail for African-American women by calculating the trajectory for Apollo 11 and 13. Arkansas is hard at work to continue that legacy by training and equipping the next generation of female STEM trailblazers.
Wrapping Up the Session03/31/2017
After three months of rigorous debate, the 91st General Assembly is winding down. As I reflect on the things we have accomplished, I am pleased with the results of this session. We have achieved important goals like providing tax relief for low-income Arkansans and military retirees. We’ve made higher education more accountable for the success of our students and have provided for the education of young Arkansans who want to enter high demand fields. And today we passed the Revenue Stabilization Act to finalize the state’s budget.
This budget includes over $54 million in proposed annual savings for Medicaid. This will result in nearly $126 million in federal savings annually for a combined total of $900 million in state and federal savings over the next 5 years.
This plan also includes $6.1 million in annual general revenue savings from a reduction in the amount of employees on the state payroll. In addition, most of our agency budgets will be held flat during the next two years. This means most general revenue funded agencies will remain at or below their current funding level through 2019. In a world of constantly increasing budgets and bloated government, this is a remarkable achievement.
While it is necessary that we maintain a balanced budget, it is also important that we address some additional areas in need of our attention. For that reason, this budget includes an additional $3 million to ensure that Arkansans have access to quality Pre-K programs and restores funding for state libraries.
The state’s foster care program will also receive an additional $26 million in general revenue to ensure they are equipped to handle their increasing caseload and can properly serve the most vulnerable children in our state.
Additionally, I included $2.5 million to fund teacher training for my computer science initiative. According to Wired Magazine, Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science. Providing our computer science teachers with quality training will ensure that we continue to do so in future.
Another priority reflected in the budget is the establishment of regional Crisis Stabilization Centers, a $5 million project recommended by the Criminal Justice Task Force. These facilities, in conjunction with crisis intervention training, will give local law enforcement officers and first responders the resources they need to effectively deal with the mentally ill, without drawing on the resources of local jails.
This plan takes the responsible approach to budgeting. In fact, the 2.9 percent growth reflected in this budget is lower than the five, ten and twenty year averages for all periods through 2016. I am pleased that we were able to strike the proper balance between maintaining a conservative approach to spending and ensuring that we adequately fund the needs of our state.
Governor’s Legislative Accomplishments03/24/2017
After nearly three months, the work of the Arkansas General Assembly is nearing completion. And while there is more work to be done, I am very pleased that all of my legislative priorities have passed.
The first item we tackled was the $50 million tax cut for lower-income Arkansans. This builds upon my $100 million tax cut for the middle class from 2015 and sets the stage for future reductions as we work towards a long-term goal of flattening Arkansas’s tax rate.
I was also pleased to sign the retired military tax cut into law. This will eliminate the state income tax on military retirement pay. We want to make Arkansas an even better place for military retirees and their families.
Another priority we accomplished was redirecting a portion of the Tobacco Settlement Funds to decrease the backlog of those on the disability waitlist. This underscores our state’s commitment to those in need.
When it comes to education, I eagerly anticipate the outcomes of our new Higher Education Productivity Funding formula. It’s a model that will focus on student success and program completion instead of just enrollment numbers.
In Arkansas, student achievement is paramount. To help students complete their degrees, we created the Arkansas Future Grant program. Now, students who are pursuing a high-demand field of study, like computer science or welding, will receive funding for two years of tuition and fees at an Arkansas community or technical college. This will increase educational opportunities for our high school graduates.
When it comes to managing the use of taxpayer dollars, it’s important to always be looking for ways to be more efficient and cost-effective. During the session, we did this by eliminating over a dozen unnecessary boards and commissions. Additionally, we proposed realignment of several agencies to improve their delivery of services; and we created the Transformation Advisory Board, who are volunteer citizens, to help find ways to improve state government and the services it provides.
For state employees, legislation was passed to reform the state pay plan, and for our law enforcement community, I signed the Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers bill into law – which will help reduce the incarceration rate of those with mental illness and increase public safety.
And last, but certainly not least, we separated the dual holiday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and General Robert E. Lee, in addition to supporting Civil War education in the classroom. This initiative was especially meaningful to me, and I could not be more pleased with the outcome and bipartisanship of this bill’s passage.
Thanks to the great work of the members of the 91st General Assembly, our state has enacted measures that drive economic development and identify better ways to serve Arkansans. As governor, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished this session, and I look forward even greater milestones as we reach those in the future.
Arkansas’s Tourism Boom03/17/2017
Earlier this week, I joined nearly 400 tourism leaders at the 43rd Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism. It was an opportunity to highlight the outstanding accomplishments of those in Arkansas’s tourism industry and to kick off the travel season.
It’s been another record year for Arkansas. There are more visitors spending more money in our state than ever before. In 2016, we hosted more than 29 million visitors who spent almost $7.7 billion in total travel expenditures. Visitor-spending in 2016 was 5% more than it was in 2015, and this continues the growth we have seen in our tourism industry over the past few years. Since 2012, total travel expenditures in Arkansas have increased by more than 32%.
Once again, this goes to show just how important tourism is to our state’s economic development. A strong tourism industry provides support for our state’s growing economy, and a strong state economy creates opportunity for our tourism industry to grow. Each one spurs the other, and ultimately, Arkansans reap the benefits.
This past year, I have had the opportunity to see tourism develop in almost every region of the state.
In the fall, I visited South Arkansas to celebrate the dedication of the El Dorado Arts & Entertainment District—an $80 million project, which will transform six city blocks into a thriving community of great food, art and El Dorado charm.
I also recently visited the Delta for the grand opening of Big River Crossing—the longest pedestrian bridge in the United States. At nearly a mile in length, Big River Crossing connects West Memphis to Memphis, providing a state-of-the-art track for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
Mountain biking and cycling is a growing market niche in the state, attracting travelers and enhancing the quality of life of our residents. That’s why I also attended the International Mountain Biking Association World Summit in Bentonville, which brought over 500 visitors from 40 states and 11 countries to Northwest Arkansas.
From corner to corner, the Natural State is brimming with beauty, hospitality, history and culture. Whether you travel down the road or across the state, Arkansas has something for everyone.
Eat Better, Live Better03/10/2017
In July of this year, Savannah Shields of Fayetteville was crowned Miss Arkansas. Just a few months later, she would go on to earn the title of Miss America. Savannah, or Savvy as she’s commonly known, ran on the platform of Eat Better, Live Better. She decided on her platform of healthy living because of her own difficulty with sleeping and migraines as a result of an unhealthy diet. After changing her diet, Savannah felt noticeably better and was able to improve her focus and get better sleep.
Now that she’s been crowned Miss America, Savvy will spend the next year traveling to promote healthy lifestyle choices in diet and exercise all across the country.
Savannah’s advocacy for healthy lifestyle choices is particularly relevant here in Arkansas. In a recent survey, nearly half of the Arkansans who responded reported that they consumed less than one serving of fruit per day, and another 30 percent claimed to eat less than a serving of vegetables daily.
Of greater concern, 36 percent of the state’s adult population is considered overweight. This is an area where we must improve. An unhealthy Arkansas is an expensive matter for the people of our state. In fact, those suffering from obesity spend on average $1429 more per year on medical expenses. This issue also hits taxpayers in the pocket, as 40 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare costs are public funds. According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical costs associated with unhealthy lifestyles total $1.2 billion a year in Arkansas alone.
To change this, we launched the Healthy Active Arkansas program. Healthy Active Arkansas is the state’s strategic plan to encourage and empower Arkansans to make healthy lifestyle choices by implementing community based strategies to increase access to healthy food options. One of the ways we are improving access to healthy foods is by promoting the state’s wonderful farmer’s markets. These markets increase the availability of healthy eating options by providing our communities with delicious locally grown food. I encourage you to support our farmer’s markets by finding healthy recipes that incorporate your favorite locally grown produce.
Healthy Active Arkansas also seeks to increase the opportunities for exercise. One of the ways I enjoy staying active is by playing basketball. In fact, just this morning, I woke up early to play a few pick-up games with a group of early risers on my staff.
As we move into Spring, I invite you to find your own fun ways to get exercise, whether by joining a competitive sports league or playing a pick-up game between friends. While you may not win every game, you cannot lose when you make the right choices when it comes to improving your diet and exercise.
Learning from History03/03/2017
In July 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a small jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama and penned a collection of his most powerful sermons, which were later compiled in a book called Strength to Love. In that book of sermons, Dr. King wrote these compelling words: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
The defining points of our past inform our decisions in the present, and it is important that we emphasize the lessons we can learn from history today.
I am pleased that Senate Bill 519 has been filed to emphasize the historic importance of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the classroom. Under this act, our state will enact a statewide policy of teaching our children about the lessons in leadership from the Civil War for the first time. In addition, this bill will coordinate classroom instruction about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.
At its core, this bill is about teaching history, but that’s not all. This legislation also separates the holidays honoring General Robert E. Lee and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – giving a distinct day to honor Dr. King and a day of remembrance for Robert E. Lee.
As governor, I’m pleased to announce my support and endorsement of this important legislation. This week, I have asked the General Assembly to support this proposal as it goes through the legislative process, and I will work to see that it is fairly presented.
The separation of these holidays is important for all Arkansans to fully recognize the contributions of Dr. King. It is my sincere hope that we are united in celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King – his courage, his conviction and his lasting influence on our nation.
This legislation not only gives us an opportunity to emphasize important lessons learned from our past; it gives us the opportunity to show respect to each other in the present. Whenever we feel divided – over race, religion or politics – may we remember this as a mark of mutual respect and unity for our state and nation.
From the capitol to the classroom, we are making decisions and creating ideas that are shaping history. It is my firm conviction that these measures are the right direction for our state. And I hope to see history shaped yet again, by the members Arkansas General Assembly and the people of Arkansas.
Efficiencies and Model T’s02/24/2017
Several years after Ford Motor Company was founded, the Model T hit the market in 1908. It captured what Henry Ford wanted for the everyday American – an affordable, reliable and efficient automobile.
To keep up with the high demand, Ford revolutionized his production process, which allowed the company to build vehicles faster and keep costs lower. He was innovative, efficient and consistently worked to meet the needs of consumers. By the late 1920’s, Ford Motor Company had become the largest manufacturer in the world, having produced more than 15 million Model T’s.
Now, I’ve never built a Model T, but I have worked to improve the performance and efficiency of state government. Just as Henry Ford focused on producing his autos efficiently, today, we turn our focus on creating leaner government services in Arkansas.
In 2015, the Arkansas legislature voted to consolidate four state agencies at my request. Already, these moves have helped our agencies streamline services and better utilize taxpayer dollars. Over the next five years, we’re expected to save around $10 million. These changes are yielding big savings – and contributing to a new generation of ideas and efficiencies in state government. This year, I proposed three additional reforms:
First, transferring the Energy Office from the Arkansas Department of Economic Development to the Department of Environmental Quality in order to more effectively implement our energy programs.
Secondly, moving the Office of Health Information Technology from being a stand-alone agency to the Department of Health.
And finally, transferring the War Memorial Stadium Commission to the Department of Parks and Tourism, giving the stadium access to more resources and new marketing opportunities for revitalization.
Thanks to the work of the General Assembly, these three efficiency measures have passed and will soon become law. I’m pleased to see our state’s lawmakers and leaders coming together and working smarter for the people we serve. Reducing the costs of government and being more efficient is something we work on every day.
In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” When we work together, there’s nothing our state can’t accomplish. It’s not a Model T, but it’s a model that’s reliable, efficient and makes state government work well for everyone.
The Story of Scipio Jones02/17/2017
When I think about black history in Arkansas, I am always reminded of the pivotal role African Americans have played in the development of our state. From trailblazers like Daisy Bates, to poets like Maya Angelou, many exceptional black Americans have called Arkansas home.
One of those exceptional Americans was Scipio Jones. Jones was born into slavery in 1863. After gaining his freedom, Scipio Jones enrolled in Philander Smith College to begin his studies, before eventually earning his bachelor’s degree from Shorter College in North Little Rock. After graduation, Jones continued his education by reading law books and studying under Little Rock attorneys in his spare time, and in 1889 he took the Arkansas Bar Exam and passed.
Through determination Scipio Jones eventually became one of the most prominent black attorneys in Little Rock. He used his talents to defend African Americans from discrimination in the court system, successfully arguing to have several wrongful convictions overturned.
But what Scipio Jones is best known for his defense of twelve black men unfairly sentenced to death for inciting mob violence. In October of 1919, an episode of racial violence would break out that would catapult the Arkansas Delta into the national spotlight. The three days of violence that ensued would later become known as The Elaine Race Massacre. In the aftermath of the tragedy, five whites and an untold number of African Americans were dead.
After a hasty trial, twelve African American men were sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the massacre in a trial that was marked by the presence of mobs and threats of lynchings. Undeterred by threats of violence, Scipio Jones jumped at the opportunity to represent these twelve in their appeal. He was determined ensure they were given a fair trial.
After some brilliant legal maneuvering, Jones successfully had the Elaine 12’s sentences overturned by the Supreme Court, saving each of them from the death penalty.
To this day, Jones’s victory in the Moore vs. Dempsey case is considered a landmark decision for the court. The ruling established a precedent for the high court’s use of writs of habeas corpus to ensure that lower court trials did not deprive citizens of their right to due process.
Scipio Jones bravely risked his life to seek justice for his clients. In doing so, he opened an avenue for others to seek justice through the Supreme Court. I am proud that Arkansas history is full of trailblazers and courageous men like Jones, who have left their mark on the history of our state. This Black History Month I invite you to learn more about men like Scipio Jones who have contributed so much to both Arkansas and American history.
Retired Military Tax Cut02/10/2017
It’s been two years since Adam and Brittany Boccher moved to Little Rock from Houston, Texas. Because Adam is a seventeen-year Air Force Special Investigations Agent, his family is accustomed to adapting whenever his orders take them somewhere new.
But when Adam, Brittany and their two small children settled into life in Central Arkansas, they knew it was the right place for their family.
While Adam works 60 hours per week at the Little Rock Air Force Base, Brittany serves as a small business owner and the founder of a local non-profit. Rather than living at the base, they decided to move to a nearby neighborhood in the effort to better immerse into the Little Rock community. This Texas family planted deep roots in Arkansas.
But with only three years until Adam’s retirement from the military, the Boccher family has been considering where they will settle in the coming years. According to Brittany, one of the biggest factors in their decision is the state’s tax rate on veteran’s retirement benefits.
The family had been expecting to move back to Texas after Adam’s retirement, but because of this week’s passage of House Bill 1162, also known as the Retired Military Tax Cut, Adam and Brittany Boccher say that they now plan to call Arkansas “their forever home.”
These are the stories that I love to hear. That’s why I proposed the Retired Military Tax Cut in the effort to recruit new military retirees to the state by eliminating the tax on military retirement pay.
This week, the Retired Military Tax Cut passed through the General Assembly with wide bi-partisan support in both the Arkansas House and Senate, and this new law will go into effect starting January 2018.
This is great news for all Arkansans. Creating tax relief for military retirees will not only make Arkansas a more military friendly retirement destination but will also encourage veterans to start their second careers or open a business right here in the Natural State.
The average new military retiree is 38-44 years old and will have another 20+ years of productive earning as part of Arkansas’s workforce. Adding these skilled and educated veterans to our workforce will further prompt economic development in our state.
When involved, hard working veteran families like the Bocchers choose Arkansas as their permanent home, our communities are made better, our economy is made better and, ultimately, our state is stronger. And I have no doubt that the steps Arkansas has taken to reduce the tax on military retired pay will do just that.
$50 Million Tax Cut Passes02/03/2017
The 91st General Assembly opened on January 9 and the session is now in full swing. I am honored to work with our legislature to make our state a better state to live, work and retire. With the approval of the General Assembly, I am pleased to announce the passage of my $50 million tax cut through both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill arrived on my desk on Wednesday of this week, and I was proud to sign it into law.
While my first round of tax cuts targeted middle income levels—those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year—this second tax cut will bring relief to the state’s lower income brackets, specifically Arkansans who earn below $21,000 annually.
This plan reduces the burden on an estimated 657,000 working Arkansans, 120,000 of whom will be removed from the tax rolls completely. With the signing of this bill, over 1.3 million Arkansans—or 90% of the state’s individual income taxpayers—will have benefited from substantive tax relief legislation since 2015.
As Governor, I frequently meet with companies who are looking to create jobs or move their operations to the state. Through these conversations, it is clear to me that one of the main factors these companies take into consideration when deciding where to locate is a state’s income tax burden. The lower the income tax in a given state, the higher likelihood that companies will consider locating there. That’s why one of my top priorities has been to bring Arkansas’s income tax rate closer in line with our surrounding states, so that we have a better chance of competing for the business of companies who are looking to create jobs or relocate in the region.
As Governor, it is important for me to balance the needs of our state with responsible tax policy. While I know there are those out there who were hoping for much larger tax cuts, it is clear that this is the most conservative reduction we could make at this time. We have taken a responsible approach to lessening the state’s income tax burden, while also ensuring that the state is still able to meet its obligations.
I have no doubt that the steps we are taking to reduce the tax burden will make Arkansas more competitive with our surrounding states and will spur job creation, economic growth, and put more money back into the pockets of hardworking Arkansans.
RISE to the Occasion01/27/2017
Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Today, most of my reading goes home with me in binders of issues and ideas for our state, information on the next day’s meetings and new legislation. But whenever I get the chance, I love to sit down with a good book and expand my understanding of the world around me.
Reading is critical for people of all ages, especially our youngest learners. That’s why my office and the Arkansas Department of Education are spearheading an effort to foster a culture of reading across the state. The Reading Initiative for Student Excellence – or RISE Arkansas, for short – is a bold, new campaign promoting literacy and highlighting the importance of reading proficiency for student success.
The Department of Education is hard at work organizing events to support the goals of RISE Arkansas. They are kicking-off a social media campaign, hosting their Second Annual Reading Conference for educators, and continuing their work with community partners.
Additionally, the department has created the RISE Academy to improve literacy training for Arkansas teachers and has put books into the hands of students and schools. Our goal is to work with community education partners to cultivate vibrant reading communities, not just in schools, but wherever possible, including at home and in libraries across the state.
Student success may be measured in the classroom, but it starts at home. Author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Studies show that when a student has age-appropriate books available to them in the home, they are more likely to experience greater academic success, regardless of their parents’ education level.
According to our National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, only 31 percent of Arkansas’s fourth grade students were proficient in reading in 2015. The proficiency scores for eighth grade students were even lower at 27 percent. That same year, under 40 percent of Arkansas’s graduating seniors met reading readiness benchmarks on the ACT. These numbers demonstrate the importance of establishing a culture of reading that will elevate student success in the classroom and open our children’s eyes to new horizons. Let’s all continue working together and RISE to the occasion.
As governor, I encourage you to explore ways that you can promote reading in your communities by organizing a book drive, volunteering to read to students or donating books to local libraries. These actions might seem small, but they can go a long way.
Daisy Growing in Arkansas01/20/2017
Earlier this week, I attended the 2017 Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Show, known as the SHOT Show, where I had the privilege of announcing more jobs are coming to Arkansas. I joined officials from Daisy Outdoor Products and their parent company, Gamo Outdoors USA, to announce Daisy is expanding in Rogers, where the company is headquartered and manufactures airguns. In addition, Gamo Outdoors announced plans to relocate their corporate headquarters to Rogers. Through this growth, approximately 30 new jobs will be created at the Daisy/Gamo Outdoors facility.
The SHOT Show has been good to Arkansas. I was the first Arkansas governor to attend the show as we realized this is a wonderful opportunity to speak directly to leaders in the firearms and ammunition industry. I talk about the many reasons Arkansas is a great fit for business. A central location, a workforce with knowledge and experience in firearms manufacturing and our support of the Second Amendment make Arkansas a perfect location for any firearms or ammunition company considering expanding or relocating.
It was these factors that made two job creation announcements possible at last year’s SHOT Show. At the 2016 show, we announced SIG Sauer would locate a new ammunition manufacturing facility in Jacksonville and also announced Remington’s plans to expand their existing facility in Lonoke.
Together, these announcements mean more than 130 new, good-paying jobs for Arkansans. SIG Sauer has now completed all renovations on their new manufacturing facility in Jacksonville and production is scheduled to begin soon. In fact, the company recently held a hiring event and then extended employment offers to more than 50 applicants for what will be their first shift. SIG Sauer’s leadership reported they were very impressed with the quality and experience of our workforce.
While world-class firearms brands such as SIG Sauer continue to locate new facilities in the state, Daisy has been manufacturing products in Arkansas since 1958, when they moved all operations to Rogers. Daisy is a name not just familiar to Arkansans. The company, which is celebrating 130 years in the airgun business, has had well-respected airguns in the youth and young adult categories for decades, and it’s no wonder why Ralphie dreamed of owning one in the classic movie, “A Christmas Story.”
Another example of a growing Arkansas-based gun company is Wilson Combat in Berryville. A producer of high-end custom firearms, ammunition, and accessories, gun enthusiasts travel from around the world to tour their Berryville manufacturing facility, where more than 150 people are employed with continued plans for growth.
National media is taking notice of our growth in the firearms and ammunition sector. Forbes magazine named Arkansas among the most gun-friendly states. We have the second-highest rates of gun ownership among all states with 42 firearms for every thousand residents. As an avid duck hunter myself, I can certainly understand why Ducks Unlimited ranked eastern Arkansas as one of the “Greatest Places to Hunt Waterfowl.”
The economic impact of the industry on our state is undeniable. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported 2,600 Arkansans were directly employed by firearms manufacturers and another 1,300 Arkansans were employed indirectly. The industry accounted for more than $145 million in direct wages in Arkansas annually along with an overall output of more than $700 million.
While other states are regulating gun manufacturers away, Arkansas is here with open arms. By reaching out to our nation’s gun and ammunition related businesses, we have an unprecedented opportunity to grow and diversify our economy. That is why I was proud to represent Arkansas at the SHOT Show last week.
Governor’s State of the State01/13/2017
This week's Column and Radio Address is the Governor's State of the State Address to a Joint Session of the 91st General Assembly on January 10, 2017.
Thank you, and I salute you as well. It is good to be back with you.
Mr. Lieutenant Governor, President Dismang, Speaker Gillam, Members of the General Assembly, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the Court—I see Cabinet Members here as well that are key parts of my administration.
This is an occasion that is meaningful to me, personally, but it is also significant for the state of Arkansas because we are gathered together as Arkansans, as people who are devoted to the public good. And so, those of you who are new here, congratulations. Those of you who are returning, congratulations—and I’ll tell you, there are surprises in both categories.
I also see our constitutional officers that are here, and that makes this a particularly auspicious occasion to kick off the 91st Session of the General Assembly.
Another year is upon us, and the year 2017 brings historic opportunities for our state and the people we serve.
Speaking of history, 50 years ago today on January 10, 1967, Winthrop Rockefeller was inaugurated as the 37th Governor of Arkansas. In addressing the 67th General Assembly, he said this:
“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I… a moment subject to special scrutiny… laden with special challenges… and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”
Today, ladies and gentleman, we have our own moment in history and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.
We, together, have been chosen by the people of Arkansas to govern and to lead in three, coequal branches of government—all represented here today. And we must govern and lead, not only with a spirit of cooperation, but within the context of our time—our time in history.
And what defines our time in history? Our place in history is defined—I think you will agree—by change.
Every generation faces change, but in today’s world though, the change comes at a faster clip than ever before. Our time of change includes the exponential growth and unbounded potential of technology, the persistent challenge of terrorism, the competitive and ever-evolving global market place, and, quite frankly, the reduced level of confidence in our institutions of government.
All of this, all of this change impacts us here in Arkansas. But while change defines our place in history, we must not be driven by the wind. We must be anchored and confident that our character and values will shape the future of Arkansas and the decisions we make as leaders.
Most certainly, there is not a more exciting time to be an Arkansan. The state of our state, I’m happy to report, is exceptional.
We are growing in terms of people who call Arkansas their home. I expect this year that we will cross the three million mark in population. While some states are enduring out migration, we are enjoying a growth surge. This movement of people to our state is important to our economy and for our international companies that depend upon the ability to attract and retain the best talent in the world.
Last year’s economy grew at a faster pace than three-fourths of the states. Our unemployment rate was significantly lower than the national average and wage rates are going up. Our per capita income increased faster than the national average, as well.
We have more people working today than at any time in history. In fact, 55,000 more Arkansans have jobs today than two years ago. At the same time, people are going to work. Those dependent upon those safety net features appropriately in our society, from SNAP benefits to others, there has been a reduction in food stamp benefit recipients by over 50,000 since 2015. That means we are progressing in our economy.
And we are attracting more visitors to the Natural State than ever before. People want to come here, and entrepreneurs and companies want to locate here.
Companies are locating and expanding in Arkansas from Sig Sauer in Jacksonville to Sun Paper in Arkadelphia; from Metova in Conway to Mars Pet Care in Fort Smith; from FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro to JB Hunt Trucking in Rogers. Yes, we are creating jobs in Arkansas. And we are also, together, working to accomplish other objectives.
We provided a $100 million middle class tax cut. We have moved Arkansas to number one in the nation in computer science education and we have started changing the way we run state government by focusing on efficiency and service.
And with all the change in and out of Arkansas, we need to make sure that Arkansas plays a leading role in shaping the future.
As more authority is returned to the states in the areas of education and healthcare, we have a unique opportunity to innovate, reinforce the important values of work and responsibility, and to assure equal and excellent world class education to every child in Arkansas.
We help shape the global economy because we are global leaders in agriculture, medicine, retailing, manufacturing and energy. Our voice is experienced, it is strong and needs to be heard. We are in a position to shape the global marketplace. We do this through engagement, by education and exchange.
Consistent with these goals, my administration will continue to pursue international opportunities for Arkansas in manufacturing, agriculture, technology and tourism. At the same time, we will seek foreign direct investment to create jobs, boost our economy and capitalize on the central location of our state.
To accomplish these goals, I’m asking for your help. Thank you for your continued support of our economic development mission, and our efforts both here and abroad. I am committed to devoting my time and energy to these efforts, because it makes a difference for our state every day. But there are other agenda items.
First, one of the goals of this administration is to improve the performance and efficiency of state government. We need to eliminate unnecessary boards and commissions, and we need to realign a number of state agencies in order to wisely use taxpayer money and better provide services to the people of Arkansas.
Secondly, we must improve the way we fund higher education. Let’s base the dollars to higher education, not on the number of students enrolled, but upon the educational progress of the students. And so I ask you to support the new legislation that will create a new funding formula for higher education, and that you will help support the additional funding necessary to implement that higher education funding formula.
Thirdly, we should resolve to reform our tax code. We need to lower our state income tax rate and be more competitive with our surrounding states.
If you pass the $50 million tax cut for those Arkansans making below $21,000, then you will provide additional tax relief for more than 600,000 Arkansans. When this is combined with the Middle Income Tax Relief of 2015, then we, together, will have reduced the tax burden for more than 90% of Arkansas taxpayers.
Yes, that means there’s more to do. I pledge to continue down the path of lowering the income tax rate for all Arkansans. And when it comes to our military personnel, when they retire, I want them to know that we will not tax their retirement income.
Many of you advocated for this in 2015, and I applaud your leadership. But this is tax relief that has to be paid for, and it will be. The tax reduction for the retired military will be 100% paid for by ending or reducing three exemptions that I have previously identified.
Now, I know that some of you say, well, this is not enough and that we need to have a more comprehensive tax reform package. I agree with you. We need a specific plan for the future so that the public knows the direction we are heading and how we can get there. My goal from the beginning has been to reduce the overall high income tax rate in Arkansas and to do it for all Arkansans.
Today, I am asking your support for a Blue Ribbon Legislative Task Force to be created and directed to recommend further reform. The priority goals are fairness, competition, simplification and economic growth. The focus of the plan is to reduce the high income tax rates in Arkansas. We need to have a plan to reduce the tax rate over time to a more competitive level. Let’s create that task force, and I ask your support.
Fourthly, we also need to assure opportunity for the next generation. This includes those who wish to go to college, those who choose to pursue a career—whether welding or construction—and those who feel left out through no fault of their own.
It is essential that we, as a state, give every high school student a simple promise: If you pursue a high need job skill or degree, then we will assure you that all your tuition and mandatory fees will be paid through a two-year college program or technical school.
It is a simple promise with a big return for our state and the next generation. It is called ArFuture Grants and it will require a mentoring program for the student. It will require working in the state for three years after college. But it will be created with existing program funds and used in combination with other education funds that are already available.
Because of ArFutures, it will be not only possible, but practical, for a student to get two-year degree or certificate without any student debt.
Let’s not leave anyone behind, and that is why I am asking your support for a higher level of funding, also, for our foster children in Arkansas. We need to improve the system. We need to adequately provide for our foster children that are in our care. We need to address their needs, and hopefully, provide a way out and restore family relationships. But we need to provide the additional funding that is being requested in the budget.
We need to remember the needs of those on the disability waiting list that have been there far too long. They are in need of more service, and so I am asking that you redirect a portion of the tobacco settlement funds, to reduce that waiting list by at least 500 as a step in the right direction in a faith commitment to those who are in need.
I ask you also to remember those who are challenged with mental illness. I’ve asked for $5 million to be set aside in the budget for Mental Health Stabilization Centers and crisis intervention training. That will be a start in helping our law enforcement community and those who deal with crisis circumstances to identify mental illness, to identify the help that is needed and to provide that help.
We need to continue looking at our criminal justice system in this state to assure that our incarceration policies are right—to assure that our policy is balanced between public safely and giving those a second chance in life who have fulfilled their responsibilities to society.
And so, I can say that in my life, I have lived the Arkansas Dream.
I was raised on a farm in Northwest Arkansas by parents who did not have much but believed we had everything important: family, faith and opportunity.
Let me conclude by reaffirming a commitment Governor Rockefeller made to the people of Arkansas at that historic changing moment in history 50 years ago:
“Now is not the time for party politics. I was elected by Republicans, Democrats and Independents by people of all races and all creeds, from all walks of life. As Governor of Arkansas, I intend to represent all, and so I dedicate my administration to the people of Arkansas.”
Today, I am honored to serve as Governor of Arkansas for all the people of this state. May God bless each of us as we work to make sure the Arkansas Dream that I experienced is possible for everyone.
Thank you, and God bless this assembly.
Looking Forward to the 91st General Assembly01/06/2017
This week, the State Capitol was buzzing as the final days of preparation before the upcoming legislative session came to an end. Monday, January 9, 2017 will mark the beginning of the 91st General Assembly of the Arkansas State Legislature.
The state legislature has changed a lot throughout our state’s rich history. Over the years, members of the General Assembly have expressed positions and perspectives as diverse as the people of Arkansas, themselves.
And there is always change. For example, today, Republicans hold a large majority in the Arkansas Legislature. But a few decades ago, former Representative Preston Bynum from Benton County was the only Republican member of the House. Once during the 69th General Assembly in 1973, the chamber broke into caucus, and the Speaker of the House joked, “Democrats caucus will meet in the Committee Room. Republicans caucus in the phone booth.”
Even though times are different in our state legislature, ultimately, our democratic system has remained effective due to our legislature’s willingness to work together, regardless of party, to accomplish good things for Arkansas.
I am pleased with the great contribution our state legislature has made in recent years. Most recently, the Arkansas Legislature has gained national attention for its success in improving the fairness of our state’s tax administration. Arkansas adopted several reforms to change the state tax regulations and create a more fair system for taxpayers, such as eliminating the requirement that taxpayers pay or post a bond before an independent hearing could be held.
The adoption of these reforms earned Arkansas designation as the “Most Improved” state in a recent report by the Council on State Taxation. According to this report, Arkansas now ranks as a top 10 state in fairness of tax administration.
This is just one example of the good things that happen when the Arkansas Legislature works together for the people of our state. I look forward to working with the general assembly on further reforms and improvements in the upcoming session.
This year, I am proposing an economic development initiative to create a tax cut for low income Arkansans, as well as a tax cut for retired military service members. In education, I am proposing a number of initiatives, including the ArFuture Grant Program and a new Higher Education Funding Formula. In terms of government efficiencies, I am proposing a reform of the state pay plan, ongoing improvements to address foster care, repurposing tobacco settlement funds to decrease the disability waitlist and more. All of this will focus on my priorities of economic development, education and efficiencies, and I look forward to working together with the legislature to make them a reality during the 91st General Assembly.
Year in Review12/30/2016
In 1902, Winston Churchill was interviewed for an article in the newspaper. When asked what qualities a politician required, Churchill humorously responded, “The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year – and then to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
Churchill understood that a lot can change in a year. And as I look back over 2016, I am pleased with the change in Arkansas and our success. We continue to build on our state’s momentum in economic development, employment rates, efficiencies, education and infrastructure, to name a few.
From opening an office of transformation for state efficiencies to opening a trade office in Germany, we have continued to pursue excellence in our state government and economic development. This year, our economy grew at a faster pace than 75% of all other states in the country, and our unemployment rate was significantly lower than the national average. Additionally, 2016 has been a year of continued growth in the number of people who call Arkansas their home. The movement of people to our state is important to our economy, to the next generation of Arkansans, and to the dozens of companies that have relocated or expanded in Arkansas this year.
We’ve had great success in economic growth this year, but it’s important to recognize that success in economic development starts with a solid infrastructure. That’s why, this May, I worked to pass legislation that provided much needed funding to support our highways and roads to continue creating jobs and supporting hard-working Arkansans.
This year, our state pushed towards a more economically responsible approach to healthcare through the passage of Arkansas Works, putting a greater emphasis on work opportunities, personal responsibility, increased usage of employer-based insurance and cost-savings.
In education, over 200 Arkansas schools have been connected to high-speed broadband since the beginning of 2016, and our state continues to lead the nation in computer science education with over 5,500 students enrolled in computer coding courses. As educational opportunities improve throughout the state, likewise, opportunities for economic growth, health care and community development will increase.
It’s been a busy year. These accomplishments only scratch the surface of the advancements our state has made since last January, and I’m eager to serve Arkansans in 2017 by continuing to work for economic development, education and efficiencies. 2016 was a good year, but we’re not done yet.
Back to the Basics12/23/2016
Christmas has a way of bringing us back to the basics. For me, that means counting my blessings, especially when it comes to faith and family. It’s a time that brings back memories of my youth, or when my now-grown children would sing in the kid’s Christmas program at church. Yes, Christmas time is special for Arkansans young and old.
Each of us have our own holiday traditions. On Christmas Eve, many will retell the Christmas Story of Christ’s coming to the little town of Bethlehem. Others will prepare to light the first candle of the Hanukkah candelabra to celebrate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Later this month, I will attend the Menorah Lighting Ceremony in Little Rock to kick-off the Festival of Lights. Regardless of how you celebrate this wonderful time of year, I hope that you are joined by those you care for most.
The holiday season often brings out the best in people. I encourage you to find ways to serve someone who is less fortunate and practice goodwill toward our fellow man. Consider giving not only presents, but giving your time to the needy and neglected. Write a card to a shut-in, volunteer at your local soup kitchen or bake some goodies for a friend.
Everyone can find some way to celebrate Christmas not only this week, but throughout the year. Give unexpected gifts to people you care about. Tell your coworkers or family members that you appreciate them. Show kindness to others, even if it’s something as simple as buying them a cup of coffee.
I’ve said it before, but Arkansans are some of the kindest and most giving people around. One of the best perks of being governor is getting to meet Arkansans from all walks of life. We know how to give and are ready to lend a helping hand. I see that mentality in every corner of our great state throughout the year, especially leading up to Christmas.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing, but of reflection.” I hope each of you will reflect upon your blessings, get back to the basics and rejoice that we are able to call Arkansas home.
As governor – from my family to yours – Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and have a blessed holiday season.
Second Round of Tax Cuts12/16/2016
During my campaign for Governor, one the most important pieces of my platform was my promise to lower our state income tax. Shortly after being sworn in as Governor in January of 2015, I signed into law a $100 million Middle Class Tax Cut, the largest income tax cut in Arkansas history. On Tuesday of this week, I announced my second round of tax cuts—this time a $50 million cut to the state’s income tax rate.
While my first round of tax cuts affected the middle income levels—those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year—my newest proposal would offer relief for the state’s lower income brackets by focusing on Arkansans who earn below $21,000 annually.
This plan would reduce the burden on an estimated 657,000 working Arkansans, 120,000 of whom would be removed from the tax rolls completely. Of course, this proposal will need the support of the Arkansas General Assembly, but if it’s adopted, a total of 1.3 million Arkansans—or 90% of the state’s individual income taxpayers—will have benefited from substantive tax relief legislation since 2015.
In addition to my proposed $50 million tax cut, I also announced on Tuesday my support for exempting all retirement benefits of retired military service members from state income tax. If passed, Arkansas would join the 16 other states that currently exempt retired military pay. I believe this exclusion is the right thing to do for our veterans and for the Arkansas economy. We want retired service members to consider Arkansas when starting their second career.
It’s important to note that this exemption would result in a $13 million reduction in General Revenue. As Governor, it’s my job to ensure that our tax policy is aligned with the realities and obligations of the state. That means any additional tax reductions—apart from my income tax cut proposal—must be offset with the repeal of certain tax exemptions. This is a responsible and conservative approach to cutting taxes.
Both of these proposals are key economic development initiatives and are important priorities to me as we prepare for the 2017 legislative session. I have no doubt, if passed, these measures will make Arkansas more competitive with our surrounding states and will spur job creation, economic growth and put money back into the pockets of hardworking Arkansans.
Moving Forward with Arkansas Works12/09/2016
This week, I received some great news from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. After negotiating terms with Washington over the past several months, she has now informed me that the waiver request for Arkansas Works will be granted.
We pursued four major elements of reform through the waiver, all intended to better align the Medicaid expansion program with the private insurance market. Our requests to establish work referral requirements and to promote premiums for some enrollees to encourage personal responsibility for health care costs were both approved. Our request to provide incentive benefits for enrollees who meet personal responsibility requirements and participate in wellness visits were also approved. And finally, we were granted authority to place a greater emphasis on employer-sponsored insurance through new employer incentives, setting a national precedent for reform in this area.
This is great news, and I look forward to further strengthening our state’s health care system under the next Administration. I’ve spoken with President-elect Trump and his team about Arkansas’s health care system. He has publicly indicated a firm commitment to allowing the states more flexibility to determine how to operate the healthcare program. I am excited for the new perspective that the Trump Administration will bring to Washington, and look forward to seeing what states will achieve, given greater flexibility and the power to innovate.
In the coming months, I expect us to push forward for more reform. Under soon-to-be President Trump, we plan to revisit our waiver application to request additional changes, such as broadening incentives for companies offering employer-sponsored insurance, and establishing more stringent work and training requirements for Medicaid’s healthy adult population.
Our end goal is to develop a responsible and conservative approach to health care that helps those enrolled in safety net programs to advance economically. For this reason, Arkansas Works was created and adopted by the legislature last year. And soon, the program will start providing healthcare coverage for more than 300,000 Arkansans.
We knew at the start of this process that we wouldn’t get everything, but the majority of what we requested within our waiver application was granted, and we are confident that we can work with the next Administration to strengthen the program. With the waiver approved, we can proceed with Arkansas Works and the coverage it provides to many of our citizens, while better managing the costs of the program through the new reforms.
As we move into 2017, and as the new leadership team takes shape in Washington, I am optimistic for what’s ahead for our nation AND for the people of Arkansas.
Christmas at the Mansion12/02/2016
One August day in 1741, George Frideric Handel sat down in his England home feeling so inspired by the Biblical account of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, that he began writing what would become one of the most famous musical compositions in history. Handel finished the 259-page oratorio in less than four weeks, and still, today, this piece of music, known as Handel’s “Messiah” continues to awe and inspire crowds 275 years later. When Handel’s “Messiah” first hit the musical stage in the spring of 1742, it was intended to be Easter music. But today, when we hear this compelling piece of music, we are reminded of the beauty of the Christmas season.
It is that beauty that the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion hopes to inspire in the imaginations of Arkansans this year as it celebrates the holidays with decorations themed as a “Tribute to Handel.”
Last month, more than thirty volunteer designers and artists gathered from across Arkansas to transform the Governor’s Mansion into a Baroque European-style hall, reminiscent of the great cathedral where Handel’s “Messiah” was performed almost 275 years ago.
The Arkansas Governor’s Mansion is sometimes called “The People’s House,” and the First Lady and I hope that the moniker becomes truer than ever before as guests from every corner of the state visit and enjoy the spirit of the season at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion this year.
The First Lady and I welcome you to come see “A Tribute to Handel” at any of this year’s holiday events at the Governor’s Mansion. I encourage you to stop by this Sunday, December 4th for the annual Governor’s Mansion Christmas Open House, or to attend the Tribute to Handel Concert on Friday, December 9, featuring choirs from Ouachita Baptist University and Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. You can also enjoy the “Christmas High Teas” every afternoon from December 12-16.
All proceeds from the Mansion’s holiday events benefit the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Association, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the renovation, improvement, furnishings and endowment of the Mansion.
To learn more about the Governor’s Mansion Holiday Events, visit friendsofthemansion.org. It is my hope that Arkansans statewide will come to The People’s House and experience “A Tribute to Handel” this Christmas season.
In 1621, the first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth Colony between the Mayflower Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Historically, the first Thanksgiving was not the feast we enjoy today. Rather, it was a time when the Native Americans and European settlers gathered together to give thanks.
They were thankful for their bountiful harvest, the abundance of wild game and for fellowship. It wasn’t just a celebration – it was a joyful outpouring of gratitude for their many blessings.
The first Thanksgiving came after a hard year. During their first winter, more than half of the English settlers died, largely because of harsh weather and poor nutrition. These struggles followed a perilous 66-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Pilgrims had left their homes and their lives for one thing – freedom against religious persecution.
William Bradford, a member of the Mayflower expedition, who was elected as Plymouth Colony’s second governor, kept a record of the journey across the Atlantic. Upon landing at Plymouth Harbor, he writes about his fellow travelers: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.” After enduring more than two months of rough seas, stale food, cramped living quarters and seasickness, they gave thanks.
This year, as we celebrate another Thanksgiving in our great country, Arkansans, and all Americans, have much to be grateful for. We are so blessed to be part of this place and time in history – our history.
Just as the Mayflower Pilgrims gave thanks when they reached the shore and celebrated our country’s first Thanksgiving, we too should give thanks for the blessings we enjoy today. Thanksgiving teaches us to count our blessings in trying circumstances, and to find joy during the struggles and hardships of present day, both locally and nationally. It’s a day for Americans to realize how fortunate we are as a nation and to be grateful for our country’s brave heroes from the time of our inception to present day.
My favorite author, Henry Van Dyke, once said, “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”
As you gather together with your loved ones, remember to show your gratitude for friends, family, food and fellowship. Yes, here in Arkansas, we are truly blessed.
Celebrating Arkansas’s Arts11/18/2016
Arkansas has a rich history of leaders whose contributions have done much to increase the quality of life for the people of our state. From business leaders who employed tens of thousands across generations to philanthropists whose gifts have made the arts accessible to all Arkansans, these leader’s contributions have made their mark.
One Arkansan who had a large impact on the state was Joseph T. Robinson. Joe Robinson was born in Lonoke County, Arkansas, and in 1894, he became the youngest member of the Arkansas General Assembly at the age of 22. He served as the twenty-third Governor of Arkansas and then in the United States Senate. Robinson passed away at the age of 64, but the impact he had on our state endures to this day.
One of the reminders of his legacy is the Robinson Memorial Auditorium, which was first completed on December 8, 1939. Through the years, the auditorium has served as a Little Rock icon, hosting some of the most influential performers and speakers of the past century including Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bob Hope.
As a native Arkansan, I have many special memories from the Robinson Center. My favorite performance at the Robinson center was an event produced by Ballet Arkansas in 1983, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov. I also have a picture in my office from May 2000, when a crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at the Robinson Auditorium to honor the memory of Daisy Bates on her birthday, just months after she had passed away.
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the grand re-opening of the Robinson Center in Little Rock. The new state-of-the-art facility received an incredible makeover to bring the 75-year-old performing arts center into the modern age.
Tomorrow, I will be in attendance at the grand re-opening of the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville after the completion of a $23 million renovation and expansion project. The beautiful performing arts venue was made possible by a partnership between the University of Arkansas and Arkansas’s most influential family – The Waltons. I am excited to see the new facility and to hear of all of the exciting programs that will be on display for Northwest Arkansas in the coming year.
The need for updated facilities and increased seating for these two theaters underscores the growing attention the arts are getting in Arkansas. The Robinson Center and the Walton Arts Center are both well positioned to stimulate increased tourism and leisure spending in Arkansas. As Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft put it, “the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
I am proud that here in Arkansas, we are ensuring that the arts remain accessible to all, and that future generations will be able to experience the exciting new offerings at these two outstanding venues for generations to come.
Honoring Those Who Fought for Freedom11/11/2016
It’s been a historical week. The people of America have spoken, and in a few months, we will welcome the 45th President of the United States to office.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
The votes of the American people were cast, and democracy has prevailed. We’ve elected another president through this time-tested process, and the will of the people has been carried out.
In January 2015, when I gave my inaugural speech at the Arkansas State Capitol, I talked about my excitement for a new day in Arkansas. We live in a time of constant change. It’s something we can always count on. And it’s something that takes us – and our country – in a new direction.
I am forever an optimist, and I’m always proud to be a citizen of this great nation. But freedom is not free. Today, as we enjoy the liberties that our brave men and women fought and died for, we remember our nation’s finest on this year’s Veterans Day.
In Arkansas, we want to do all we can to support our veterans. Together with the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, we are making it easier for Arkansas veterans to have access to vital resources and services. Over the last year, we have opened six regional offices across the state to serve veterans. And today, I am pleased to announce that the final two offices in Hope and Russellville are ready to open their doors – four years ahead of schedule.
But there’s more good news. With Veterans Affairs Director Matt Snead, we also announced the grand opening of the Arkansas State Veterans Home in North Little Rock. It’s an innovative “small-house design” that includes eight cottages that can house up to 12 residents. Along with a community building, this 31-acre site will offer Arkansas vets top-notch care and has plenty of room for future expansion opportunities.
Yes, there’s much to celebrate on this Veterans Day. I encourage everyone to say “thank you” to one of nearly 250,000 Arkansas veterans. Remember their service, honor their sacrifice and preserve their legacy today, and every day.
It’s been quite a week. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and we’re blessed to be citizens this great country we can proudly call home.
Arkansas Black Hall of Fame11/04/2016
The Induction Ceremony for the 24th Annual Arkansas Black Hall of Fame is always a noteworthy day—a day to celebrate the contributions of dedicated individuals with a history of accomplishments.
For twenty-four years, the Black Hall of Fame Foundation has recognized the rich historical contributions of some of Arkansas’s best and brightest leaders in business, medicine, law, music, media and more.
In the past, those who have been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame have played at Carnegie Hall or flown with the Tuskegee Airmen. Others have become leaders in AIDS research or titans of business innovation. Many have dedicated their lives to serving the community.
But this past weekend, I had the opportunity to recognize and celebrate six of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame’s newest inductees—men and women who have contributed to a significant part of American history and Arkansas history through their lives and accomplishments.
This weekend, we recognized individuals like Cynthia Scott, a leader in vocal performance, who has given joy to millions of Americans through her music, sharing the stage with performers like Ray Charles and Gladys Knight. We celebrated Justice Richard Mays, Sr., who has devoted himself to the cause of justice and civil rights through his time on the Arkansas Supreme Court and in the state legislature. We remembered Estella and Knoxie Hall who, as entrepreneurs, could neither be stopped nor discouraged by those who did not want to give them a chance. We celebrated the life of Judge Mifflin Gibbs, a businessman and politician who was appointed to office by three Presidents and continued innovating and creating for his entire life, even starting a new business at the age of 80. We applauded Gregory Davis, a native of Fort Smith, who created a media empire in Georgia in the span of his 39-year television broadcasting career. And we also recognized June Carter-Perry from Texarkana who served as a Foreign Affairs Officer in tough assignments across the globe.
Every 2016 Arkansas Black Hall of Fame inductee has a distinctive story and path in life, but each and every one is a pioneer and a world changer. These inductees have made diverse and extraordinary contributions that have touched not only Arkansas, but also influenced the world more broadly.
In the words of Rosa Parks, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” Our state and nation are changed by these men and women who forged their way into history with their unbelievable lives and their courageous stories. If you would like to learn more about the outstanding accomplishments of current and past inductees, be sure to pay a visit the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Exhibit, located in the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock. I encourage you to stop by and honor those who have made invaluable contributions to both Arkansas and the world.
Governor Responds to Issue 7 Removal10/28/2016
Imagine my surprise when I heard the news about issue seven only minutes after going to the polls myself for early voting. I just cast my vote in Rogers when I found out the Arkansas Supreme Court had disqualified one of the marijuana measures.
It is unfortunate and ill-timed that the challenge to the validity of the signatures on issue seven was decided so close to the General Election. This decision will likely result in confusion for voters, as the measure will remain on the ballot, but the votes on that measure will not be counted.
While I accept and respect the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, I am disappointed that the people of Arkansas will not have the opportunity to vote on this measure, as well as several other measures, proposed by the people. Regardless of where I stand on the issues, it’s important for Arkansans to be able to voice their vote at the polls.
The best part of our country is the process of democracy, and Arkansas is fairly unique in that the people of our state have reserved for themselves a form of direct democracy. As provided in Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, “[t]he first power reserved by the people of Arkansas is the initiative.” This power allows the people to propose legislative measures, laws and amendments to the Arkansas Constitution by submitting an adequate number of valid signatures on an initiative petition to the Secretary of State.
The Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified issue seven because the sponsors failed to submit the minimum number of valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. In addition to issue seven, the Court also disqualified two other measures: the casino amendment and the tort reform amendment. Those measures were disqualified because of insufficiencies in the ballot titles of those measures. When issues come to the ballot box, it’s important to get them right. That way, people will be able to honestly evaluate each measure and be well-informed when they cast their vote.
The Court is in a very difficult position with these issues because the Arkansas Constitution requires petitions to be filed with the Secretary of State not less than four months before the election. This year that deadline fell on July eighth. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the Supreme Court’s decisions on the sufficiency of statewide petitions to come days before the election – and that is because of the late deadline to submit initiative petitions to the Secretary of State and even later challenges to those measures.
This year, challenges to the various initiated measures were filed as late as early September. The case concerning issue seven, the second marijuana measure, was not submitted to the Court until last Thursday, October 20th. The Court rendered their decision only a week later.
The Court was left with no choice but to issue its decision, even though it came so close to this year’s election. In order to prevent the Court from having to make these decisions so close to the election, it is necessary to move the deadline to file petitions with the Secretary of State. This change would require an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. One option would be for the General Assembly to propose this change as one of the legislatively referred constitutional amendments during the upcoming session.
Democracy is not only the cornerstone of state government, but the foundation of our country. Your voice, and your vote, matters. And after it’s all said and done, democracy – and the will of the people – will prevail.
Bringing Jobs Back to Arkansas10/21/2016
I am delighted to wrap up another successful trade mission in China with my Arkansas Economic Development Commission team. This week, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Suzhou Tianyuan Garments Company, which will result in the creation of 400 new jobs and an investment of $20 million in Little Rock.
This is great news not only for Central Arkansas, but for our state’s entire manufacturing sector. Tianyuan’s investment in Arkansas represents the first apparel company to bring manufacturing jobs from China into the United States. As the major supplier of apparel to brands like Adidas and Armani, Tianyuan will be a valuable addition to Arkansas’s manufacturing sector.
But this trip wasn’t just about the deal with Tianyaun, but also met with Chinese officials to discuss increasing Arkansas’s agricultural exports. While making the case for Arkansas, we visited five cities over the course of six days in four Chinese provinces. I also met with the Vice Minister of Agriculture in Beijing and the Secretary General of Foreign Affairs. It was a big undertaking, but the trip is already yielding results and will continue to provide us with further opportunities to do business with China.
Agriculture is a major part of China’s economic landscape, with 45 percent of the Chinese population being employed in the agricultural sector. And with agriculture being Arkansas’s number one industry, we both have much to gain from building a stronger trade relationship.
Four companies that are owned by China-based corporations currently do business in Arkansas. One of the four, Sun Paper, is still in the planning stages, but will soon bring a tremendous boost to South Arkansas’s timber industry. And now, with our latest agreement, Tianyuan Apparel is set to become the fifth.
In today’s global economy, Arkansas can’t afford to sit on the bench when it comes to recruiting foreign investment in economic development. Last year, China’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, represented more than 17 percent of the world economy at $10.8 trillion. During that time, Arkansas’s exports to China totaled nearly $295 million, and because of our efforts to grow Arkansas’s relationships with China and its business leaders, our state is in great position to improve upon those numbers.
In the words of AEDC Director, Mike Preston, “When you’re doing economic development, relationships matter." Fostering strong relationships with industries across the world is critical to our economic development efforts. It is important that we continue to meet with government officials and business leaders face-to-face to advocate for Arkansas’s quality products and skilled workforce. Whether we are hosting foreign companies in our state, or sending trade delegations to advocate for Arkansas on the international stage, the relationships we build will lay the groundwork for continued success in job creation here in Arkansas.
Energy in Arkansas10/14/2016
This week, Arkansas watched and stood ready to assist as Hurricane Matthew took a toll on our nation’s eastern coast. We were saddened to hear of the devastating loss of life, destruction of property, and hardship for the communities impacted by the storm. Hurricane Matthew caused damage from Florida to Georgia to the Carolinas, including widespread power outages for about 2.2 million households.
But disaster relief crews from across Arkansas were ready to help. Most people run from hurricanes; but one Arkansas energy company ran towards Hurricane Matthew, providing assistance and relief to areas affected by the power outages. This week, Entergy Arkansas sent 70 servicemen to the east coast to help Florence, South Carolina turn the lights back on.
The devastation of 2.2 million homes suffering power outages demonstrates just how fundamental reliable energy is in protecting the health and safety of Americans. A sustainable and diverse energy supply powers our industry, transportation and way of life.
As the Chairman of Southern States Energy Board and the Chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, I recognize just how critical the effective supply of reliable, affordable energy is for our state and our nation.
In recent history, our nation has emerged from an energy importing country to the world’s largest oil supplier, exceeding Saudi Arabia and Russia. Unconventional natural gas drilling has opened up such a large resource base that prices are affordable and supplies have created an enormous potential export market. Just last year, Arkansas had the nation’s seventh lowest average electricity prices at about 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Today, in the West South Central Region of the U.S., which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, residential electricity prices are averaging just over 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.
This just goes to show how important the South’s role in the energy marketplace is. Five new nuclear power plants are being built in the region, meaning that the South will soon supply about 50% of the nation’s nuclear energy.
But the key factor in supplying energy resources for the benefit and security of our citizens is building diversity in our energy resources. Arkansas uses coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar and hydro as a balanced mix in our energy supply. Reliable and affordable energy of many different varieties enables states to pursue jobs and business development.
A state’s economic development is inextricably tied to the energy policies we pursue. This is why, in Arkansas, I emphasize state leadership for the protection of our energy industries and for the responsible regulation of one of our nation's most vital resources. Let’s continue working towards strong, state-led energy policies to benefit our communities, our state and our nation.
Protecting and Serving Arkansas10/07/2016
Last week, I welcomed thirty-two Arkansas State Police Recruits to the 2016 Recruit School Graduation. As I addressed Arkansas’s newest State Troopers, I thought back to the many stories I had heard just the night before at the Chiefs of Police Banquet – stories from some of Arkansas’s most seasoned officers who have experienced their fair share of interesting moments on the job. Their accounts made it clear to me that Arkansas’s newest State Troopers have quite a future ahead of them.
As I reflect on the stories I’ve been told by our state’s law enforcement officers, I think about the extraordinary courage and dedication that our officers have demonstrated over the last few months and how we need to recognize their service.
I think about the kindness of five Arkansas State Troopers who threw a birthday celebration for a ten-year-old boy from Hot Springs Village.
I remember visiting Trooper Roy Moomey of Crawford County, who was severely injured when he risked his life to save another, colliding with a car driving the wrong way on the interstate.
I think about the initiative of Trooper Gabriel Chambers when he brought water and groceries to a group of bikers stranded on the side of the interstate in Fayetteville in the middle of the July heat.
I think about the unwavering perseverance of Corporal Jason Chester and Sergeant Trey Dupuy when they swept a storm drain three times to rescue a 13-year-old boy who had been trapped there.
And with a heavy heart, I remember the courageous life of Sebastian County Corporal Bill Cooper who was tragically shot and killed in the line of duty. His selfless service to his community will not be forgotten.
Whether police officers or state troopers, our law enforcement community works hard to protect and serve Arkansas. And it is the responsibility of our law enforcement leaders to provide critical law enforcement training and best practices to those making life and death decisions on the frontline.
That is why our law enforcement officers are becoming increasingly involved in programs like the Arkansas Law Enforcement Accreditation Program – a voluntary process where Arkansas police agencies prove their compliance with the highest standards to ensure the public safety and the protection of individual rights. This is also why I have committed to supporting Crisis Intervention Training, which teaches officers how to identify symptoms of mental illness and appropriately respond to mental health emergencies.
Now, more than ever before, it is the call of our law enforcement to go above and beyond their everyday responsibilities. I am grateful for the ways that our officers have demonstrated leadership by protecting, respecting and serving our communities.
Again, thank you for your service, and keep up the good work.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.”
In Arkansas, one in five people are food insecure. One in four children face hunger and forty percent of senior citizens are uncertain of the next time they will receive a nutritious meal.
Although Arkansas’s food insecurity rate declined slightly from 19.9 percent in 2014 to 19.2 percent in 2015, there is still much to be done.
These statistics represent Arkansas’s children, parents, grandparents and friends – they are our neighbors. Let’s set aside our differences and rally as a state to make an impact in someone’s life.
Throughout the month of September, Arkansans from near and far made donations to the Great Arkansas Food Drive. Many used the “Be Neighborly” smartphone app that allows people to purchase and donate pre-filled grocery bags to one of six Arkansas hunger relief organizations.
September is nearly over, but each of us can continue fighting hunger by donating to local food drives, using the “Be Neighborly” app or offering a helping hand to those who are in need. As we close out the month and enter the fall, I urge all Arkansans to continue looking out for each other, especially within our communities.
As a state, we are incredibly fortunate. Our economy is growing, our unemployment rate is low and our students are being better prepared for what lies ahead of them. But sometimes we forget to appreciate the simple and great importance of daily meals.
Having lived through the Great Depression, my parents knew the struggle of hunger. As a child, I remember eating simple foods like cornbread and all kinds of stew that my parents had been raised on. My family was fortunate to always have just enough to go around, but we were continually mindful and careful to share our bounty with neighbors.
Those experiences taught me the importance of doing all we can to aid and assist those who go hungry. Hunger should never be the norm. What we do in Arkansas matters. Together, let’s unite in the fight against hunger and support our neighbors in need.
Autumn in Arkansas09/23/2016
American journalist Jim Bishop once wrote, “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” And I would argue that autumn in Arkansas carries the most gold of all. Yesterday marked the first official day of the fall season, one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a season for family, football, hunting, pumpkin pie and, most of all, for some of Arkansas’s best festivals.
From Newport to Camden to Bella Vista, Arkansans statewide will be enjoying the season’s cooler weather at craft fairs, car shows and cook-offs.
This fall, take a trip to experience some of Arkansas’s favorite traditions at the 81st Annual Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart or the 25th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy Arkansas’s best local, homegrown tastes when you stop by the Arkansas Championship Hillbilly Chili Cook-off in Bull Shoals or Pumpkin Hollow in Piggott. Whichever corner of the state you visit, you won’t be far from fall fun and Arkansas hospitality.
I’m looking forward to joining in the fun of Arkansas’s fall celebrations this season, too. In a few weeks, I’m heading down to Arkansas’s Delta for the 31st Annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in historic downtown Helena to eat some southern favorites and listen to some of the best blues in the world.
And Arkansas’s Delta isn’t the only part of the state with good food and great blues. This week, Northwest Arkansas is celebrating one of the state’s most famous traditions—Bikes, Blues, and BBQ, the largest motorcycle rally in the U.S. that benefits local charities. Bikes, Blues, and BBQ draws bikers from across the nation to the Ozarks for some of the most beautiful motorcycle riding in the country. Last year, over 400,000 visited Fayetteville, generating an estimated $69-80 million economic impact.
Once more, this goes to show that tourism and economic development are inextricably linked. In 2015, Arkansas hosted more than 28 million visitors who spent $7.2 billion in total travel expenditures, $374 million in state taxes and $137 million in local taxes. Plus, some 120,000 Arkansans work in the tourism and hospitality industry, which is over a billion dollars in payroll.
Autumn is a time of change, but one thing that remains the same year after year is that Arkansas is an outstanding destination for visitors and a one-of-a-kind home for residents. There is no better place to be this fall than in the state of Arkansas.
For more information about fall festivals, events and destinations in The Natural State, visit Arkansas.com.
Saving for College with 52909/16/2016
In the year 1173, construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in Italy. After more than three centuries, the great leaning tower was finally completed. The architects had not originally designed for the tower to lean, but because of poor planning and an uneven foundation, the Leaning Tower of Pisa will never stand straight.
Laying a firm foundation at the start of any project is essential to success. Whether you build a city or plan for your child’s future education, you want to plan and lay a strong foundation.
In Arkansas, we are helping parents of young students do just that through the Arkansas 529 GIFT College Investing Plan. Throughout the month of September, which is College Savings Month, one kindergarten student in every county in Arkansas will be eligible to receive $529 in a GIFT college savings plan account.
Here’s how it works. Every kindergarten student can participate by sending in their artwork and a parental consent form to the State Treasurer’s Office by September 30th. Then, early in October, a random drawing will be held to select one winner from each participating county to receive a $529 award in an Arkansas 529 GIFT College Investing Plan. The official rules, entry form and parental consent form are available online at arkansas529.org.
The Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas State Treasury and the Arkansas 529 GIFT College Investing Plan Review Committee have joined together to sponsor this initiative – working to help spread awareness of the importance of starting to save early for a college education. And with the Arkansas 529 GIFT plan, parents and grandparents can start saving money for their child’s college education one day at a time.
Once a student is ready to go to college or vocational school, all 529 qualified withdrawals that cover higher education expenses like tuition, computers, books or room and board, are exempt from state and federal income tax. That means your savings go directly toward paying for your student’s college with no tax penalty.
Consider this – If a parent or guardian puts just four dollars every day into a 529 fund, in just five years, you could have saved more than $8,200 – all for the price of a large cup of coffee. If you continued to contribute at the same pace and gain five percent interest each year, in 18 years, more than $42,000 could be available to help your student afford a college education.
As governor, I have the privilege of helping to lay a solid foundation for our state through job creation, improving education and marketing Arkansas to the world. Everything we do today will have an impact on our state and on our families. And there’s no better time and place to start setting a firm financial foundation for our future college students than today, in Arkansas.
Governor’s Computer Coding Competition09/09/2016
In October 1879, Thomas Edison successfully tested a light bulb that burned for a ground-breaking thirteen and a half hours, a moment that changed the world. But the impact of his short-lived accomplishment lasted more than thirteen and a half hours. It required hard work and perseverance, two things that Edison knew well. This is why he is known for saying, “good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”
140 years later, our nation faces a shortage of skilled computer science professionals, despite vast opportunity for great paying STEM careers. With 1,700 currently unfilled computing jobs in Arkansas and only 272 recent computer science graduates, it is my commitment to do everything possible to help “opportunity meet with preparation.” As Governor, my goal is to ensure that Arkansas students are fully equipped to meet the possibilities that await them in the workforce.
That is why I visited Little Rock’s Hall High School this week to announce the kick-off of the Governor’s All-Region and All-State Coding Competition. This competition, supported by a $40,000 grant from Verizon, is open to teams made up of three students each, grades 8-12. The teams will compete regionally and the top two winners of those competitions will receive an invitation to participate in the All-State Coding Competition. Members of the top three teams will each receive a scholarship award of up to $2,000, and the school that produces the All-State champs will also receive an award of up to $20,000.
The Governor’s All-Region and All-State Coding Competition will not only test students’ computer coding skills, but will continue to develop their ability, creativity and ingenuity. Why is this important? Because fostering these qualities in our students will equip them for possibilities they may not even realize are available to them.
Last week, I traveled to Greenwood, Arkansas on my 2016 Coding Tour and met with students in computer coding classes, robotics classes and some students who had no interest in computer science at all. But after sharing that one million of the best jobs in the nation could go unfilled because of a shortage of computer science professionals, I received an email from a Greenwood senior named Alexandra who said, “[Getting a degree in computer science] has always been in the back of my mind but you definitely persuaded me today.”
These are exactly the kind of stories that I love to hear. I believe that many of the world’s up-and-coming innovators are right here in Arkansas. And it is my goal to prepare them with the education they need to meet the opportunity ahead.
I am looking forward to all that the students will learn in the upcoming Governor’s All-Region and All-State Computer Coding Competitions. The competition will demand hard work and dedication from the competing teams. But I know that there are no students who are more up for the challenge than those right here in Arkansas.
Texarkana’s Best and Brightest09/02/2016
Last week my travels took me to Texarkana to honor some of Arkansas’s best and brightest. At Arkansas High School in Texarkana, I presented certificates to 17 Advanced Placement Scholars who were recognized by the College Board for their exceptional work in completing their AP courses. I also awarded financial incentives to 60 of these students who earned qualifying AP test scores last year.
At Arkansas High, students are able to take up to six AP classes during their junior and senior year. If they pass the exams, they can potentially graduate with a full year of college credit. On top of tackling two semesters of college before even enrolling, these students receive $100 for every qualifying AP grade they earn. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
Arkansas law requires every high school to offer at least four AP classes. There are 38 AP courses offered at high schools across the state, and 21 are now offered at Arkansas High School. Within the past year, the Arkansas High School AP program’s participation rate has grown by 17 percent.
And here’s the thing, these tests can be taken by anyone. Since the state pays for students to take the AP exams, which are more than $90 per test, these classes are offered at no cost to students. This means students have the option to earn up to a year’s worth of college credit without spending a dime – giving them the opportunity to save thousands of dollars by earning credit for college in high school.
Arkansas is unique in this effort because we are the only state to cover the full cost of students taking AP tests. For example, 606 AP exams were administered to students at Arkansas High School last year. In total, these tests cost more than $55,000, but not one student was required to foot the bill. Through the Arkansas Department of Education, we are able to cover the complete cost of the tests.
Here’s what past and present Arkansas High School students have to say:
Andrew, a senior student at the U of A, said, “The AP program showed me that I love to learn, and it gave me the tools to be able to learn as much as I want to. They pushed me as a student… teaching me a level of time management skill that has made college easy.”
Armonté, Arkansas High School senior student, said, “It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Mason, a student at UCA, said, “The teachers at Arkansas High have gone above and beyond their expectations as educators… taking a personal interest in the futures of their students – and the result shows.”
Blaine, the Arkansas High School Freshman Student Class President, said, “I can already see the differences in the coursework. I am more challenged, motivated and interested.”
Sarah, a junior at the U of A, said, “I would encourage every student to consider taking at least one AP course during their high school career so that they can begin to understand the depth and workload of a college class.”
Five students – five stories – and a lasting impact on the bright future of every high school student in Arkansas challenging themselves in AP classes.
The Case for Coding08/26/2016
This week, I was delighted to kick-off my second computer science coding tour at Arkansas high schools. I went to Benton, Bryant, Manila and Spring Hill. Next week, we’ll continue the tour.
At the start of each assembly, I asked the audience a simple question: How many of you are interested in taking computer science? Only a smattering of hands were raised from the audience, and I knew immediately how important it was for me to be there.
My goal was to reach those students who hadn’t raised their hands. Once they heard what computer science was all about and how they could use it to create something new, I got a very different response. When I asked the same question at the end of the presentation, the number of hands tripled.
This year’s coding tour is a chance for me to tell students directly that exciting opportunities in computer science and coding are real and available to them. It’s about helping students discover professions within these fields and learn to speak the language of 21st century innovation: computer coding.
Every aspect of education is important, and computer science is just one more way our students can engage with the world around them. Whether you want to be the next Steve Jobs, design video games, create security software, or start your own business, learning to code will help you get there.
Part of being successful is about being able to communicate effectively. This is why communicating in code to maximize what computers can do is giving coders a competitive advantage. It’s a numeric language that speaks directly to computers, and anyone can learn.
With the help of the General Assembly, I initiated the first effort in the nation to mandate computer science in every high school. But here’s the thing, students aren’t required to take the class. That is why it’s so critical that we continue to raise awareness for our students, parents and guidance counselors about these exciting opportunities. These classes give our students a chance to explore the exciting world of coding, while also earning credit that counts towards graduation.
My mission as governor is not only to create jobs and grow Arkansas’s economy, but to put our students ahead of the competition. We’ve taken a bold step onto the national stage with this initiative, but the most exciting part is that we’re just getting started.
In just one year, Arkansas saw a 260 percent enrollment increase of students taking computer science in high school. Just imagine what that number would look like in another year or two when every day, more students, teachers and businesses are seeing the benefits of computer science education. And it’s slowly, but surely, putting Arkansans on the cutting edge of the computer science movement.
A New Way to Fund Higher Education08/19/2016
As another school year begins, many recent high school graduates are gearing up for their first semester of college. It’s an exciting time for our students as they explore their academic passions and lay the foundations for a promising career path.
Arkansas’s colleges and universities work hard for success with the students as they work toward their degrees. Currently, the funding of our higher education institutions is based upon enrollment numbers, but doesn’t take into account the student success rate of these institutions.
When I took office, I set a goal to increase post-high school degree and certificate completion from 40 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025. That’s a tall order. But with the help of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the support of our state colleges and universities, we’ve created a new higher education funding formula with a focus on degree completion. That means when more students succeed, colleges and universities are rewarded in their funding.
The new funding formula will put a greater emphasis on student success and increase the productivity, efficiency and accountability of Arkansas’s colleges and universities – regardless of the school’s size or number of degree programs. It will incentivize school leaders to focus on activities that encourage and empower our students to graduate on time.
This is a big step forward for our schools and – most importantly – for our students. And I’m not the only one excited to see these changes. Higher education professionals from all across the state have provided ideas and solutions to help make this happen. By working together with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, we’ve developed a funding formula that prioritizes outcomes, rather than just enrollment numbers.
So why is degree completion so important? Because students who complete their degrees are better equipped to compete in today’s workforce. On average, the first year earnings for Arkansans with a high school degree are around $12,000 annually. But with a college degree, our graduates typically start at nearly $30,000, which more than doubles their annual income right out of school.
In Arkansas – where the unemployment rate is at an all-time low and we have added more than 54,000 jobs since January 2015 – jobs are both available and attainable for students.
Those who pursue higher education in Arkansas deserve every opportunity to excel. Under this new funding formula, there will be greater focus on ensuring that students are able to walk across the stage on-time, and with a diploma in hand – all the while providing the college or university with incentive to be more efficient with how they use their budget.
Together, with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and our state’s outstanding colleges and universities, we’re working to make Arkansas a national leader for student success. And with the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s recent vote to pursue the new funding formula, we are now ready to present it to the Arkansas General Assembly. This would make Arkansas the fifth state in the nation to base higher education funding on student outcomes – the possibilities for Arkansas’s students are endless.
From AR Farms to AR Tables08/12/2016
Arkansas has a rich tradition of family farming. Out of the 45,000 farms in Arkansas, ninety-seven percent are family-owned. We lead the nation in rice production and are among the top ten states in the production of poultry, catfish, sweet potatoes and lumber.
The agricultural industry adds nearly $20 billion to our state’s economy each year, all the while sustaining a long tradition of homegrown production.
Yes, in Arkansas, our agricultural roots run deep.
This week, to show my support of our farmers, I issued a proclamation for “Farmers Market Week” in Arkansas. From August seventh to thirteenth, nearly 100 farmers markets sold their homegrown products in every corner of the state.
These markets – stocked full of everything from bacon to jellies – allow our farmers an outlet to sell their goods and contribute to the health of local communities. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked tomato or ear of corn that was grown less than 50 miles away. In fact, last week I picked up a watermelon and it reminds me that our Hope and Cave City watermelons are the best in the world.
To put the industry in perspective, farms span across 13.8 million acres of Arkansas land and account for one out of every six jobs. But not only are farmers critical to Arkansas’s economic success, they also lay the foundation for a healthier Arkansas.
An important part of our mission is to increase access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. Farmers markets have played a major role in helping us accomplish this goal, bringing nutritious, top-quality produce right where you live and eat. Through the federal SNAP benefits program, Arkansas can double the purchasing power of SNAP benefit cards at farmers markets. That means more people will have access to healthier food choices and greater opportunities for a balanced diet.
And every year, “Farm to School” programs gain more popularity as schools choose to buy fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers to feed students. These programs provide healthy choices for our kids, invest in communities and support local farms.
The momentum of the farm-to-table movement and our efforts to advocate for farmer’s markets have tripled the number of markets in Arkansas over the last three years alone. That means more jobs are created, families and children are eating healthier and local farms become more sustainable. It’s a win-win. And it is part of my Healthy Active Arkansas plan.
As governor, I am proud to support Arkansas agriculture and the farm community. To our farmers – our greatest natural resource – thank you for bolstering our economy and supporting our uniquely Arkansas way of life.
And to those who have a hankering for some homegrown produce and Arkansas hospitality, find out when a local farmers market is open near you, and come hungry.
Revitalizing Downtown Jonesboro08/05/2016
Last month, I took my second international trade mission to Europe as governor to tell Arkansas’s story on the global stage. It’s exciting to talk about the state’s economic development, job growth, computer coding initiative and natural beauty, but what I really enjoy is telling the stories of Arkansans at the local level.
Every part of Arkansas has a story to tell, and some of the best stories are about people who work and live for the people in their community. The Downtown Jonesboro Association, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the downtown scene, has worked to offer resources and programs to improve the quality of life for Jonesboro’s citizens and businesses downtown.
From art murals created by A-State University students to the nationally accredited “Main Street” program, the Downtown Jonesboro Association is making its mark on Northeast Arkansas. The nonprofit received six statewide awards last year from the Main Street Arkansas program for recent projects and for the creation of the signature street market event, “Alive after Five.” This emerging program is comprised of local farmers, bakers, musicians and shops, and attracts more than 500 visitors each month.
The Downtown Jonesboro Association has also helped create 87 new jobs through business recruitment last year, bringing the total number of new businesses in the downtown area to 17 – and this year, they’ve already seen six more businesses open their doors.
In June, the Downtown Jonesboro Association came to Central Arkansas to accept an Arkansas Historic Preservation grant of $15,000 to go toward building improvement, downtown parking, public art initiatives and more. In essence, these funds will go directly back into the community – making downtown Jonesboro an even more vibrant place to live, work and play.
In the words of the Downtown Jonesboro Association’s Executive Director, Hailey Knight, “Since 2000, local community members and stakeholders have worked continuously to improve our streetscape, recruit businesses and rehabilitate buildings – all helping to promote the area as the ultimate destination place for Northeast Arkansas.”
There’s a lot of reasons to love Arkansas, and small town stories that have a big impact are some of the greatest examples. If you’re wanting to take a weekend trip before summer ends, consider visiting places like Jonesboro. And if your story takes you there, use the Twitter hashtag #WeAreDowntowners to share your experience with others.
Naturalized in the Natural State07/29/2016
The phrase “E Pluribus Unum”, found on the Seal of the United States, means “out of many, one.” Those words not only recall the history of the 13 colonies coming together as one nation, they also remind us that the United States is a melting-pot of immigrants from all over the globe. When people and cultures combine on U.S. soil, they weave the beautifully diverse fabric that makes our nation so great.
This week, I had the opportunity to meet 101 of our nations’ newest citizens at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock. People from 37 countries were administered the Oath of Allegiance, swearing their loyalty and patriotism to the United States. The youngest person to take the oath of citizenship was 19, the oldest, 80. And each of the 101 can finally, proudly, call themselves Americans.
If growing up in this country has taught me anything, it would be that no matter where you come from, you have the potential to accomplish great things. I’m proud of my roots. I was raised in the small town of Gravette, and I’ve had the opportunity to do everything – from shoe-shining to governing – as a citizen of the United States. This is my version of the American Dream.
As I watched those 101 men and women recite the Oath of Allegiance, it was clear that the American Dream is now a possibility for them.
Of the many stories told at the ceremony, one that stood out to me was that of the Bruzatori family. Their journey to American citizenship began in 2002 during the Argentine Great Depression. As a result of a severe economic downturn, the Argentinian government defaulted on $155 billion of debt, causing hyperinflation across the country. To make matters worse, the government froze citizen’s access to personal savings accounts and tightly restricted all bank transactions, keeping many from using the money they had saved to support their families.
Guillermo Bruzatori, searching desperately for a way to offer his family something more, soon found himself convinced by a family friend that greater opportunities for his three children – Guillermo Jr., Florencia, and Camilla – could be found in the United States. Full of hope for a brighter future, Guillermo and his wife, Garciela, packed their bags and set off to pursue a new life for their family in the great state of Arkansas.
Today, two of the Bruzatori children have graduated from college, with the third in the process of earning her degree. After the family took the Oath of Allegiance, Florencia said, “We are very excited and proud to now be fellow Americans.”
The journey of the Bruzatori family, and of all those who received citizenship that day, have now been woven into the fabric of the American story. As we welcome our newest citizens, we can take pride in our country’s status as a beacon of hope and opportunity around the globe as the greatest nation in the world. God has truly blessed the United States of America, and in Arkansas, we are blessed to have these 101 new citizens.
Broadband Access for AR Schools07/22/2016
It’s always good to go back home. This summer, I’ll be returning to the small town in Northwest Arkansas where I grew up to reconnect with friends and family and to enjoy the memories of my youth. Growing up in Gravette has helped me to appreciate the value of the close-knit community that small towns often produce.
When I return home, I am reminded of the importance of continuing to invest in these smaller communities that may sometimes be overlooked. One of the best ways we can invest in our state’s small communities is to work hard to provide the best educational resources, particularly by ensuring that these communities have access to broadband Internet. Over the past 10 years access to the Internet has transitioned from a luxury to a necessity, and communities that lack access are at risk of falling further behind.
Forty years ago, the world was very different. Growing up, I recall taking trips to the library and sifting through card catalogs to find information for my school projects, but today, most students research information online or through a digital library catalog. Methods of education are constantly evolving along with the development of new technology. Technological advancements have provided students, teachers and communities with vast resources for research and study. The Internet provides massive amounts of information at the click of a button.
But for students living in rural areas, online research may not be so simple. Much of the time, small towns in rural Arkansas have difficulty accessing online information simply due to a lack of broadband connectivity.
As Governor, it is my objective to eliminate hurdles that limit opportunity and affect the quality of our schools and communities.
For example, tasks like applying for jobs and signing up for health care coverage now require an internet connection. Public safety, economic development, business, education and health care are all significant factors in the economic growth and quality of life within a community.
This is why, last year, the Arkansas Department of Education, the Department of Information Systems and myself set a goal for 100 percent of K-12 public schools in Arkansas to have sufficient high-speed, secure and state funded broadband access.
In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission issued an internet-access target of 100 kilobits per second per student in public schools. In Arkansas, we have doubled that standard, so that we will provide access to 200 kilobits per second per student in 100% of Arkansas public schools. As I visit communities across the state this year, I am encouraged that even the smallest towns in rural Arkansas are closer to having access to broadband internet service available in their communities.
In September 2015, Fort Smith became the first school district in the state to connect to the upgraded high-speed network, called the Arkansas Public School Computer Network. Since then, hundreds of Arkansas schools have followed suit, and every week, another half-dozen schools get connected. Today, nearly 80 percent of the state’s schools now either meet or exceed the FCC’s Internet access target, ranking the state at 21st in the nation for broadband connectivity. Soon our state will be one of only three states with 100 percent K-12 broadband connectivity.
This is excellent news for education in both small towns and thriving cities in Arkansas. Arkansas is preparing our students for a greater future. As educational opportunities improve throughout the state, so will other opportunities improve for economic growth, health care and community development. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Promoting Arkansas Across the Pond07/15/2016
Last Saturday, I boarded a flight to London with a team from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to attend the Farnborough International Air Show. Over the last 10 years, Arkansas has had a significant presence at the Farnborough Air Show – and this year was no exception. Attendees included 86 of the world’s top 100 aerospace companies and over 100,000 trade visitors from 56 countries.
Farnborough provided me an excellent opportunity to meet with aerospace industry leaders and sell Arkansas. In recent years, the aerospace industry has been one of Arkansas’s chief exports, accounting for nearly $2.3 billion in total export value over the last two years.
During our visit, Mike Preston, the Director of Arkansas Economic Development, and I met with representatives from more than 20 companies. We encouraged them to consider what Arkansas has to offer their businesses as they look to expand, and we were pleased by the level of interest we received during those meetings. In our conversations, several businesses in the aerospace and defense industry expressed their interest in the state, and let us know they were impressed with Arkansas’s computer coding initiative. As a result of these discussions, I am pleased to report that we have nearly a dozen leads with major companies to increase jobs and grow our state’s economy.
After the Farnborough Air Show, our delegation continued the trade mission’s momentum by traveling to Germany to announce the official opening of the Arkansas Economic Development Office for Europe in Berlin. The German office will be Arkansas’s third international trade office, with two others already operating in Japan and China.
So why, of all places, did Arkansas open a trade office in Germany? One of the reasons is because our state already has a strong working relationship with this country. In fact, Germany leads the list of countries with business operations in the state. Germany’s 30 Arkansas subsidiaries include manufacturers of automotive parts, power tools, and plastics. Together these German companies employ more than 1,600 Arkansans.
Germany’s central location in Europe and its position as our state’s largest foreign direct investor gave us yet another incentive to locate the office in Berlin. Over the next several years, this office will serve as the central hub for our efforts on the continent, enabling us to reach companies in the entirety of Europe with ease.
Today, more than 34,000 workers in Arkansas are employed by foreign-owned companies. These investments directly contribute to Arkansas’s growing economy and help us continue to improve our already record unemployment rate. The math is simple – more jobs mean even lower unemployment numbers, and more money in the hands of Arkansans. This week, I was proud to lay a foundation for Arkansas’s economy in the heart of Europe. I am excited to see the effects our efforts in Europe will have in bringing job growth and investment to our state.
Growing Economic Success07/08/2016
Earlier this week our state received some great financial news. The Arkansas Department of Finance submitted the year end revenue summary for 2016. I am pleased to report that Arkansas finished the year with a $177 million budget surplus. This is an excellent reflection of our growing economic success.
Our budget surplus is a direct result of conservative principles in action. One of the first steps I took upon being elected Governor was to sign the largest middle class tax cut in Arkansas’ history. This tax cut affected what I like to call the “sweet spot” of the state’s economy by easing the burden on individuals making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year.
Opponents of tax cuts often cite the opinion that cutting taxes will reduce the government revenue base and hinder its ability to fund services. After this week’s news, it is clear that the exact opposite has been the case. The tax cuts we passed in 2015 went into effect on January 1 of this year. Even with the impact from $100 million in tax cuts, net revenue from the state income tax grew by 4.4% over last year’s collections.
Reducing the state income tax rate to a more competitive level is a key component of our economic development plan. When we pitch our state to companies who are exploring establishing or relocating in Arkansas, one of the first things they consider is the income tax rate of the target state. Companies want to make sure their employees are able to maximize their take home pay, so they tend to favor states with a lower tax burden. A competitive tax rate will help us recruit more companies like Big River Steel and Sun Paper to the state which in turn will expand our tax base and increase the total tax collections without the need to raise taxes.
Relieving the financial burden on the middle class not only helps us bring more jobs to the state, it also drives economic growth by putting money back in the hands of wage-earners. After all, the more money hardworking Arkansans have in their pockets, the more likely they are to support local businesses, buy school clothes for their children and to spend in manner that creates growth for our state.
It is important to note that economic growth is just part of what is necessary to build our $177 million surplus this year. It was also important to control spending. At my direction, our state agencies have continued to look for savings and efficiencies in their budgets. One of the ways we have kept costs down is the continuation of the hiring freeze for state agencies. Before the hiring freeze went into effect our agencies often filled vacant positions with no consideration as to whether the positions were still needed. Now our agency directors are taking a deeper look at ways they can streamline their agencies to be more efficient to ensure that we are making the best use of public funds. In fact, current estimates, as of the end of the 2016 fiscal year, show nearly $7 million in savings from the hiring freeze.
Conservative budgeting also means that we need to be well prepared for the future. While we are doing well right now, it is important that we protect ourselves against the possibility of another economic slowdown. For that reason, I plan to direct as much of our $177 million surplus to our state’s rainy day fund as possible. Currently, we have $41 million in our fund and we’ll be adding another $13 million in monthly payments to the rainy day fund throughout the year.
As Governor, I am working hard to lead our state in preserving funds and wisely allocating money to best grow our economy, ultimately putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Arkansans.
Celebrating Our Liberty and Freedom07/01/2016
Two hundred forty years ago, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and predicted that for centuries to come, July the 4th would “be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival,” which would include “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” Centuries later, as Adams predicted, we continue to commemorate our nation’s independence by lighting up the sky in celebration of our liberty and freedom.
The freedom that we enjoy as a nation was, and continues to be, hard-fought and hard-won. In fact, within the first few years of America’s conception, many of the founding fathers feared that our newborn country was already on the cusp of collapse.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, George Washington participated in vigorous debate about how to structure the government of our fledgling nation. Benjamin Franklin, the Pennsylvania delegate and elder statesman at the convention, later noted that Washington sat in a chair with the image of a sun carved into its wooden back. Franklin remarked that he was unsure whether that sun was rising on a new, free nation, or setting on idealistic hopes for a nation conceived in liberty. As thirty-nine delegates signed the U.S. Constitution, however, Franklin was confident that the sun was, indeed, rising rather than setting.
On July 4th, it is important to look back and honor the men who charted our path as an independent nation two centuries ago. This year, many are hearkening back to the beginning of our country by attending the mega-hit show on Broadway, “Hamilton.” “Hamilton” has sparked worldwide interest in American revolutionary history. The hip-hop musical tells the story of America’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and the pivotal role he played in the early years of our nation.
Alexander Hamilton certainly lived the sort of eventful life that was made for the stage. He served in multiple wars, helped draft the Constitution, served as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, founded the New York Post, and wrote over two-thirds of the renowned Federalist Papers, a series of essays that defended the yet-to-be-approved Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton had his hands in nearly every aspect of our nations founding. He devoted his life to creating the country’s solid foundation and securing the liberties that we know today in the United States of America.
It is my sincere hope that we never lose sight of how priceless those liberties truly are. It was Alexander Hamilton, himself, who said on December 13, 1790, “However weak our country may be, I hope we shall never sacrifice our liberties.” The founders of our nation understood the outstanding courage required to establish and maintain liberty and justice for all, and they also predicted that if courage failed and fear prevailed, these liberties would disappear as well.
Fourth of July should not only be a celebration of our independence, but also a reminder of the courage, resolve, and sacrifice required to secure it. As we enjoy the holiday on Monday, keep the words of President Eisenhower in mind. He said, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”
AR Economic Milestones06/24/2016
In 2012, Fort Smith was dealt a staggering economic blow when Whirlpool permanently closed the doors of its manufacturing facility, eliminating more than 900 jobs in the area.
Although some might have expected the people of Fort Smith to pack their bags and call it a day after such challenges, the Fort Smith community refused to let this setback define them. Fort Smith’s leadership worked hard to bounce back. Part of its strategy has been to recruit world-class companies to the community and create an atmosphere that encourages existing businesses to grow. Since 2012, companies from all over the world have announced plans to locate or expand in Fort Smith, resulting in the creation of thousands of new jobs.
Fort Smith is just one example of an Arkansas city that is experiencing recent economic growth. Arkansas is bringing jobs from business around the world to communities all across the state. In March, I traveled to Northwest Arkansas to announce 100 new jobs in Rogers. From there, I traveled immediately to Northeast Arkansas to announce 110 jobs in Jonesboro. Through these two announcements, 210 Arkansas families in two different communities on far ends of the state will experience a greater a quality of life because companies are making significant investments in our state and our workforce.
As more industries begin to take notice of the friendly business climate in our state, our unemployment rate continues to drop. The unemployment rate for the state is 3.8 percent—the lowest it has been since at least 1957, when the unemployment rate was first recorded in Arkansas. This brings the total number of employed Arkansans to 1.3 million. There are currently 54,000 more Arkansans who now have a steady flow of income to support their families than when I took office in January of last year. This is great news!
Arkansas is gaining the attention of business across the globe. In just a year and a half, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has signed incentive agreements with 150 new or expanding companies in the state. These 150 companies will create more than 6,300 new jobs at an average hourly wage rate of almost $19.25, and will invest $2.5 billion in their Arkansas operations.
Arkansas regularly trades with dozens of countries from Japan to Cuba. Five European countries ranked among Arkansas’s top 20 trading partners in 2015, accounting for 16.9 percent of all exports from Arkansas. Germany leads this list with 23 German-based firms located in the state, employing more than 1,600 Arkansans.
Because of Arkansas’s connections with Germany, I will be joining with our economic leaders to officially open a new office in Europe, which will put us in a better position to recruit foreign companies to do business in our state. This office will allow us opportunity to be even more successful with global companies that are looking to expand in the U.S.
Ultimately, our goal is to share our story with the world to create better opportunities for hard-working Arkansans. Already, it’s been a great year for job growth in Arkansas, and with our state’s natural beauty, thriving lifestyle, effective infrastructure and entrepreneurial mindset, Arkansas will continue to attract new talent and business for years to come.
National Great Outdoors Month06/17/2016
Last Friday, I spent the evening with eight Central Arkansas families to celebrate National Great Outdoors Month. The event was part of a nationwide “Governor’s Capital Campout,” and Arkansas was one of 17 states to participate this year.
It was the perfect evening for a campfire, s’mores and stories. As we gathered around a campfire at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, it was hard to miss the excitement of the kids and parents enjoying nature together – many experiencing camping outdoors for the very first time.
The world of outdoor living has always been a big part of my life. Growing up in rural Northwest Arkansas, I spent my childhood surrounded by nature – literally. My brother and I had bedrooms on the very top floor of my family’s old farm house, which of course had no air conditioning.
During the summer months, we would take our bed sheets and pillows to go sleep outside and get some relief from the heat. As we enjoyed the cool nighttime breeze, I fell in love with the sounds that make up nature’s symphony – crickets chirping, frogs croaking and the gentle breeze rustling through the trees. Still today, those sounds are music to my ears.
Not only did I grow up in that environment, I raised my children to love the outdoors as well. They’re all grown now, and they seem to enjoy recalling memories of our camping trips. They always talk about my camping skills – or as they would put it – my lack of camping skills.
When they were teenagers, we went camping on top of Mount Magazine. It was March and it had been pretty cold. As night approached, we wanted to start a fire. I, however, forgot to bring the matches. So there we were on the tallest point in the entire state – unable to start a fire, but I absolutely refused to leave. I don’t think they’ll ever let me live that one down. But I love our state parks, camping and all that the Natural State has to offer.
This summer, Arkansas’s travel and hospitality industries are starting on a strong note. Our tourism tax collections are 7.8 percent ahead of last year’s revenues, which were also up from the previous year. Low gas prices and great weather are making it easy to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the Natural State. And last weekend, I did just that at the “Governor’s Capital Campout.”
Our state parks are not only great for your physical and mental health, recreation, and timeless family memories, they’re great for the economy, too. As the nation celebrates National Great Outdoors Month in June, I encourage you to take your family on an unforgettable Arkansas outdoor adventure. You could make a kayaking trip through the class four rapids at Cossatot River State Park, take in the beautiful scenery at Cedar Falls, or spend a night or two camping out with your family at Mississippi River State Park.
You can’t go wrong spending time at any one of Arkansas’s 37 state parks. And remember, even when you forget the matches, the memories you’ll make at any Arkansas state park will last a lifetime.
Medical Schools Expand In Arkansas06/10/2016
Twenty-three year-old Jackson Bagby from Van Buren grew up with a desire to become a physician. When he graduated from the University of Central Arkansas, he knew he wanted to go into osteopathic medicine. He began researching osteopathic programs outside of Arkansas, but, when Arkansas State University announced plans for a college of medicine on its campus, Jackson knew exactly where he was meant to be. He was accepted into the school’s first class of students, beginning this fall.
Jackson says he’s “an Arkansan through and through,” and that his love for Arkansas has made him even more committed to learning and practicing medicine in the Delta Region.
The Delta Region isn’t the only portion of Arkansas that will benefit from the educational opportunities of future medical professionals. In April, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith received pre-accreditation to begin recruiting its first class. The inaugural class of the Fort Smith medical school is predicted to have 150 students and will begin in August of 2017.
According to the U.S. Office of Management & Budget, a rural area is classified as having fewer that 50,000 people in one city. In the United States, 77% of rural counties are facing a shortage of primary-care providers, and 8% don't even have a single primary-care physician.
With nearly 45 percent of our state’s population residing in rural areas, some Arkansans experience difficulty accessing healthcare due to a shortage of medical health professionals in their region.
We are working diligently to ensure that this will soon be a thing of the past. Studies show that eighty percent of medical professionals remain in the region of their first job or residency.
With our state’s flagship medical school, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and with the establishment of two new osteopathic medical schools, Arkansas’ network of medical professionals is growing rapidly.
Last week, I traveled to Jonesboro for the rededication of Arkansas State University’s Wilson Hall, the newly renovated home to our state’s second medical school, the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine.
NYIT at Arkansas State will further help meet the health needs of Arkansans by strengthening our state’s ability to train future medical health professionals.
Already, the school has accepted 124 students and the current waitlist sits at around 150 applicants. Additionally, 48% of the students accepted to be in the first incoming class are Arkansans.
Together, with UAMS, and the additions of two more medical schools in Jonesboro and Forth Smith, we are providing an excellent opportunity for our state to address a shortage of medical health professionals and become a frontrunner in higher education for medicine and science. Higher education should be in the business of meeting the needs of Arkansas; both new and established institutions for medical education throughout our state are doing just that.
As one of A-State’s newest medical students, Jackson Bagby said, “The thing about medical school is that it’s your first step to pursuing a career in lifelong service. I’m taking step one in learning how to change lives for the better.” As Governor, I will continue working with our higher education entities to ensure we retain talented medical students, like Jackson, here in the great state of Arkansas.
The Future of Arkansas Graduates06/03/2016
Another school year has come to a close. Many high school and college graduates across Arkansas have now earned their degrees and are preparing to enter the workforce. It’s an exciting time.
Graduation day is something you remember forever. You hold your head high, receive your diploma, and as you return to your seat, you meet the eyes of friends and family who couldn’t be more proud of you.
Carla Webb, age 45, from Buckner, Arkansas, finally got that experience for herself after earning her degree from Southern Arkansas University – only two hours before her son, Darryl Webb III. The path toward earning her degree was anything but easy. And yet, on May 6, 2016, Carla was awarded her degree in Criminal Justice, followed shortly by her son, who earned a double major in Engineering Physics and Mathematics.
When asked about her experience, Carla said deciding to start college at age 45 was a challenge. But because of her determination and support from her family, Carla continued to push herself and finally walked across that stage.
Many Arkansans share a similar mindset. We know the values of hard work and persistence – and with many skilled and professional workers heading toward retirement, there will be an estimated 5.8 million job openings nationwide, with nearly 60,000 of those openings in Arkansas.
The jobs are here; all it takes are the right tools, a willingness to learn and an opportunity to get them.
As governor, I get a lot of calls about economic development. When a business is considering relocating or expanding in Arkansas, the abilities of the state’s existing and upcoming workforce are always a key part of the discussion. It is critical to equip our students, young and old, with workforce training opportunities to give them a competitive edge. That way, Arkansans can graduate with skills that meet the needs of employers – and ultimately, can be successful in any career.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." In Arkansas, we are moving closer toward bringing a new generation of skilled workers and professionals into our state’s labor force. Already, our state has funded several new Secondary Career Centers in the past year, bringing the statewide total to more than 40 centers. We’ve also seen innovative career development programs in local school districts and more than 20 regional workforce grants issued by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education over the past year.
Additionally, Arkansas is working to close the education attainment gap by setting goals in the Department of Higher Education to increase post-high school degree and certificate attainment from 40 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025. It’s a bold mission – but when our students excel, so do our businesses, our communities, and, our economy.
The future of Arkansas graduates – like those from Webb family – is bright, and I encourage learners of all ages to go out and make your own success stories. You’re never too old to start learning, and you’re never too young to aim high and achieve great things.
Honoring the Fallen05/27/2016
On March 3, 1945, Arkansan Jack Williams was on the island of Iwo Jima with the 3rd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. Upon seeing a fellow marine wounded by a grenade on the frontlines of battle, Williams braved enemy fire and ran to assist the wounded marine, shielding the man with his body while dressing his wounds. As he assisted the soldier, Williams was shot four times. He paid no attention to his own injuries, but instead finished helping the man and rushed to the aid of another marine in need. It was then that he was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness that day.
On April 25, 1951, Charles Gilliland from Yellville, Arkansas was serving in Korea in the 7th Infantry Regiment. When his company came under attack, they were greatly outnumbered. But Charles Gilliland refused to give up. He held a strong defensive position and fired continuously at the enemy line, even after suffering a severe head injury. Gilliland stayed behind to provide covering fire as the rest of his company retreated. He was never seen again. His family was presented with the Medal of Honor just one month before his 18th birthday.
On March 17, 2010, Hot Springs native Chief Petty Officer Adam Brown and his Special Ops Assault Team were engaged in an enemy fire fight in Komar Province, Afghanistan. The enemy fire pinned down many of Chief Petty Officer Brown’s fellow soldiers until he made the selfless decision to charge the enemy, drawing the fire from his comrades. Chief Petty Officer Brown saved their lives by sacrificing his own that day.
Jack Williams, Charles Gilliland and Adam Brown are just three of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have counted the cost and paid the ultimate price, laying down their lives in service to our country. We say their names and we retell their stories that we may never forget their sacrifice.
It is traditional for soldiers to honor their fallen comrades following combat by paying tribute to them in a final roll call. The Sergeant Major calls the name of each soldier in the unit. When he reaches the name of the fallen soldier, however, the room fills with silence. The Sergeant Major calls the fallen soldier’s name once again. No one responds. Finally, the Sergeant Major calls the fallen soldier’s full name and rank. The first sergeant then steps forward and responds with the soldier’s full name and rank, declaring that the soldier was killed in action.
Acknowledging the absence of the fallen soldier is often a difficult and somber affair, but the soldiers call roll with the conviction and resolve that all unit members will be accounted for and that the fallen soldier will never be forgotten.
In the same way, we resolve to commemorate the fallen—those who have served our country in centuries past, along with those who have fought and died in recent years. We say their names, tell their stories and strive to honor their memory everyday.
This Memorial Day, as is my custom, I will be speaking at the Arkansas Memorial Day Ceremony at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery. However you observe Memorial Day this year, I encourage you to take a moment of silence honoring those who have laid down their lives in service to our country. We owe them a debt we can never fully repay.
Paving the Way05/20/2016
We all learn from history and that includes Arkansas history.
In 1911, the Arkansas Legislature met for the first time in the new State Capitol. The building was still unfinished, but it was “finished enough” for legislators to meet for a general session.
During the session, Arkansas’s 22nd Governor, George Donaghey, proposed three bills that would help with the final completion of the Capitol Building. Two of his bills easily passed through the legislature. The third, however, was filibustered to death on the last day of the regular session.
The gavel came down at noon on May 13, 1911, signaling the end of the general session. Only 30 minutes later, Governor Donaghey issued a call for a special session – marking the third special session in Arkansas history since the adoption of the 1874 Constitution.
Five items were on the special session’s legislative agenda, including bills to help fund the completion of the Capitol. Although the building was not fully finished until four years later, Governor Donaghey was pleased everyone had worked together and had gotten the job done.
Now, more than 100 years later, the Arkansas State Capitol continues to house the daily operations of state government. It’s seen quite a few special session since the days of Governor Donaghey. And this week, it saw another as the 90th General Assembly gathered for their third special session.
We’ve taken on a number of items, but our main objective is to address Arkansas’s highway funding needs. We need to ensure that our state has adequate funding for our highways, roads and infrastructure.
Back in January, I outlined a five-year highway plan that would fund our current roadway needs and support future highway projects in Arkansas – all without raising taxes. My plan calls for the use of existing revenue and surplus funds for our highways while still allowing Arkansans to enjoy savings at the pump. A little extra pocket change can go a long way.
Today, the “Arkansas Highway Improvement Plan of 2016” will continue through the various committees of the legislature. Some characterize the plan as a short-term fix, but I do not view it as a one-time solution. It’s a plan to meet our federal funding match for the next five years or more. There’s always the option of doing something different down the road, debating our options and looking for long-term solutions. But for right now, we’re off to a good start.
In President Ronald Reagan’s first Inaugural Address, he said, quote “We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding – we are going to begin to act, beginning today” end-quote.
This weekend, the legislators will continue working and preparing for the special session activities on Monday. They will look for ways to achieve greater government efficiencies, protect our Worker’s Compensation program, lighten the workload for our foster care caseworkers and resolve challenges facing our state’s schools.
As governor, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I applaud our legislators for diligently working to find solutions to our state’s most pressing issues. Keep up the good work, and keep “paving the way” for Arkansas’s future.
After all, we’re making history – and it’s a story we’ll all be able to tell.
Law Enforcement Heroes05/13/2016
Last month in Hot Springs Village, Angela Andrews sent invitations to a birthday party for her son, Toxey. The Mom invited twenty-one of Toxey’s friends to celebrate over a bonfire, hot dogs, cake and ice cream. This was a big day. Toxey was turning ten years old.
On the day of the party, however, Toxey was crestfallen when none of his friends arrived. According to his mother, the ten-year-old was overwhelmed and disappointed, saying, “I just wanted people to come.”
Two days later, Toxey found that he had friends he had yet to even meet who were eager to celebrate his birthday.
After learning of the unattended party through Facebook, five Arkansas State Troopers exhibited extraordinary initiative and compassion by throwing Toxey his very own birthday celebration. With the permission of Toxey’s mother, five state troopers named Corporal David Forthman, Troopers Kyle Sheldon, Tim Callison, Brandon Cook and Terry Sawyer surprised Toxey at his home, bringing along presents, a birthday cake, and even a K-9 named Rhino. Together, the troopers ate cake, played basketball, and taught the ten-year-old how to activate the lights and sirens in the troopers’ vehicles.
Having experienced one of his best birthdays yet, Toxey said that he was so happy, he cried. He hopes that one day, he too will become an Arkansas State Trooper.
The efforts of these five troopers to care for a member of the community when they had no official obligation to do so exhibit leadership, caring and policing at its finest. The story of Toxey’s birthday surprise has traveled all over the world, eliciting responses from people in Taiwan, France, Malaysia, Germany, Hong Kong, Poland and Tanzania, as well as hundreds of responses from across the United States. One man from Sweden sent a letter to the Arkansas State Police Department saying, “I will definitely make a stop in Arkansas next time I am back in the USA—seems to be a nice and friendly state.”
Next week our state joins in observing National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day, recognizing those who work to protect our citizens and commemorating the service and sacrifice of over 20,000 United States law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Of these, 283 were killed while serving in Arkansas. Whether police officers, state troopers, or correctional officers, these brave men and women help keep us safe and they daily put themselves in harms way. Many times, their work goes unrecognized and underappreciated.
Now, more than ever before, it is the call of law enforcement to not only protect their community but to go beyond what is required and show kindness in many different ways to the community they serve. I am proud that Arkansas law enforcement officers demonstrate that leadership, respect and initiative every day, even to the point of celebrating the birthday of a ten-year-old boy from Hot Springs Village.
Our officers do so much more than their normal responsibilities, and they demonstrate to the world what Arkansans are like.
As governor, I thank those who work to preserve public safety and protect our citizens. I appreciate your service and your commitment to our communities and to our state. Because of your hard work and dedication, the world is able to see that superheroes do exist—right in the state of Arkansas.
Restoring Hope to AR Foster Kids05/06/2016
Jarvis Hale, a Division of Children and Family Services Investigator who’s been on the job for nearly two years, recently shared a heartbreaking story. One evening, not long ago, he was called to a home by law enforcement who had found a toddler walking alone down a street. When Jarvis arrived at the home of the toddler, he saw a gut-wrenching scene.
There were dirty diapers on the floor, old food rotting in nearly every corner of the home, and roaches – some alive, some dead. Besides the wandering toddler, there were three other children living in the home. The oldest was just 15, and had been trying to take care of their younger siblings for quite some time. But since there was no food in the home, the small toddler had gone searching for something to eat.
Jarvis loaded the kids into his car and took them to the nearest DHS office. Sometimes, when children are taken into foster care, they bring in clothes, toys and toiletries. However, this sibling group had nothing. Their only clothes were dirty and too small. Soon after their arrival, a worker made sure the children had something to eat, went out to Walmart and bought each of them clean underwear, pajamas, shoes and personal items.
Sadly, this dismal scene is all too common. No child should have to experience what these four children knew as their everyday reality. That’s why it’s important for us to do everything we can to protect and care for our state’s foster children.
Currently, there are more than 4,900 children in foster care in Arkansas. As a parent, grandparent and governor, my heart goes out to these children who need our help and our support. In government, when you work on issues like foster care, results can sometimes come in forms of mandates and stand-alone events. But I want to do more, which is why I held the Restore Hope Summit last summer.
Already, our attention to this issue has resulted in changes within DHS and at the Division of Children and Family Services. The thoroughness of investigations has improved, the percentage of children receiving protective services who are abused or neglected is down, and the average time for adoption has decreased. Additionally, the number of beds for foster children has increased by nearly 400 since my Restore Hope Summit.
We have made progress, but there’s still more to be done. May 2016 is National Foster Care Month and Arkansas Foster Care Month. To help meet the needs of our foster children, I urge every Arkansan do your part and help build a brighter future for children like those rescued by Investigator Hale.
If you are able, please consider making a donation to the statewide donation drive to help make children’s first night in foster care a little easier. Items such as new clothes, suitcases, toiletries and kid-friendly snacks can be dropped off on weekdays in May at any of Arkansas’s 85 DHS county offices.
Every young Arkansan should know the safety and love of a permanent home. It’s up to us to help our children start their lives on the right paths. Together, we can make a difference for the next generation and give more hope for the future.
Sun Paper’s Natural Choice04/29/2016
Last November, I went on a trade mission to Japan and China. During the trip, I met with top executives from a China-based company called Sun Paper that employs more than 10,000 people worldwide.
After touring the company’s headquarters in China’s Shandong Province and explaining the benefits of Arkansas’s timber industry, myself and Hongxin Li, Sun Paper chairman and founder, signed a letter of intent. In this letter, Sun Paper committed to investigating building a facility in South Arkansas.
Now, only four months later, the letter of intent has become a reality. This week, Sun Paper announced they will invest $1 billion to open a bio-products mill in Arkadelphia. The opening of this mill will create 250 new jobs that pay an average of $52,000 annually. It is also expected to result in more than 1,000 indirect jobs for those working in South Arkansas’s timber industry. It is estimated that this mill will generate at least $28 million a year for timberland owners in the area.
In addition to this significant economic impact, more than 2,000 construction workers will be hired over a two year period to build this new facility.
Sun Paper’s investment in Clark County is among the top two largest private investments in Arkansas’s state history. It required a lot of teamwork. Legislators and leadership teams in Arkadelphia and Clark County worked hard to make this project a success. Stephen Bell, President and CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, was an instrumental part of the project.
Bell is excited about Sun Paper coming to Arkadelphia, but also for all the economic activity that goes along with it. He estimates the mill will bring millions of dollars each year to the area economy.
New tax revenue coming into the area will allow for greater improvements in infrastructure, which will help recruit industry and support existing businesses. Also, millions of new dollars generated from increased activity will go toward local businesses and strengthen our schools and colleges.
When Bell heard the big news, he said, “I was ecstatic and felt a great sense of pride for the community. This was a big accomplishment for the economic development team, and we couldn’t have done it without the coordinated efforts of AEDC.”
During the Sun Paper announcement, Chairman Li not only credited the economic advantages of choosing to do business in Arkansas, but also the development of personal relationships between Arkadelphia, the State of Arkansas and myself. He said, after researching and investigating locations for more than four years, “We are delighted to find a place to call home.”
We are glad to have them here. Arkansas was a natural choice for this project, and it’s been a pleasure working with everyone involved. There really is no place like home – especially if home is Arkansas.
Working Together for Arkansas04/22/2016
I love history, and this week I was reminded of a speech made in the British Parliament during the critical days before World War II, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was taking England and our allies down the wrong path. Prime Minister Chamberlain had just made a speech in parliament and it was up to the opposition party leader, Arthur Greenwood, to give the response.
Greenwood began very nervously: “I am speaking under difficult circumstances, with no opportunity to think about what I should say, and I speak what is in my heart at this moment.”
Another member of parliament, Leo Amery, was on the back row of the chambers and was frustrated that Greenwood was simply speaking for the Labour Party at this perilous time for England. Amery stood up from the back of the chamber and shouted, “Speak for England, Arthur!”
At that moment, Greenwood changed his message, spoke for England and gave the greatest speech of his life and, perhaps, changed the course of history.
This week in the Arkansas General Assembly, we might not have been as dramatic as the debate before the Great War, but I was proud of what we did. We all came together and spoke for Arkansas.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas Senate passed funding for Arkansas Works, with twenty-seven voting in favor of the legislation. Yesterday, another three-fourths vote was achieved in the House.
Passing Arkansas Works has been a difficult journey. But we’ve accomplished what we set out to do because our legislators looked for and found a solution, together. Both Republicans and Democrats brought the General Assembly together to support the funding for Arkansas Works.
After I received the legislation, I exercised my line-item veto authority, which rejects the sunset clause which would end the Arkansas Works program on December 31. Now, the funding bill has been passed and signed into law.
This has been a long process, starting with the formation of the Legislative Task Force on Healthcare Reform, all the way to setting up the framework for reform to encourage more work opportunities and more reliance on employer-based insurance. I applaud Senator Jim Hendren and Representative Charlie Collins for their exemplary leadership as the reform bill moved through the legislature.
The budget session began last week, and now, only eight days later, the funding of our state’s healthcare needs has been accomplished. We attained stability in our healthcare system and bipartisanship within the legislature. That is a good week.
There was a lot of courage involved, and I commend our legislators for their resolve and their passion in dealing with this subject. As governor, I applaud the action of the Arkansas General Assembly this week and everyone who worked to make this a success.
It’s been quite a week, but we’ve still got more business to do. At the end of the day, I am confident the people of Arkansas will be pleased with what we’ve accomplished. And that’s something that we, as public servants for the State of Arkansas, can ALL be proud.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park04/15/2016
As governor, no day is typical. I work with the legislature, pursue economic development opportunities, listen to the concerns of citizens and meet people from every corner of the state. I love my job, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the office and enjoy the Natural State.
Last weekend, the First Lady and I spent two days at Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The birds were singing, the flowers were blooming and the weather was just right for a hike down Lover’s Leap Trail. The mile-long loop near Mena is a great trail for hikers of all skill levels and offers some of the best views of the Ouachita Mountains.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park, named after the soon-to-be Queen of the Netherlands in 1898, originally hosted a luxurious mountain resort named “Castle in the Sky” on account of its grandeur. But soon after its opening, the Wilhelmina Inn faced financial hardships and fell into a state of disrepair. By the 1930’s, only pieces of the original stone fireplaces remained, which can still be seen on the park’s Reservoir Trail today.
In 1957, community leaders and legislators created a resolution to resurrect Arkansas’s “Castle in the Sky” and established the original site of the Wilhelmina Inn as an Arkansas State Park.
Since then, the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge has become the park’s crowning attraction. Since extensive renovations, the lodge is projected to finish its first year of operation with an occupancy rate of almost 76 percent – that’s a nearly twenty percent increase from before the renovations were made in 2011. Now, visitors get to enjoy larger rooms with modern amenities and even bigger windows to admire the view – I know Susan and I did!
Every year, Queen Wilhelmina State Park attracts over 160,000 visitors who stay in the lodge, enjoy a good meal, or hike one of the scenic trails. For someone who spends a lot of time in the office, getting outside and enjoying nature was just what I needed before starting our fiscal session.
Few experiences can compare to seeing and staying at Arkansas’s beautiful state parks in the springtime. As a lifelong Arkansan, I can attest there’s no better place for a fun, inexpensive, memorable getaway than visiting places like Queen Wilhelmina State Park. So as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, grab your hiking boots and get ready for an adventure.
An Arkansas Solution04/08/2016
This is Governor Asa Hutchinson…
There was one key bill on the agenda of the three-day extraordinary session of the General Assembly: Arkansas Works. Arkansas Works provides greater emphasis on work opportunities, requires a personal investment in healthcare, increases usage of employer-based insurance and implements cost-saving measures.
Almost two weeks before the special session, my office introduced our draft of the Arkansas Works legislation. Since then, we have worked with both sides of the legislature to make changes and address concerns. Some say we went too far in our changes, while others argue we haven’t gone far enough. But I say both statements indicate that we’ve reached a solid medium.
On the first day of the special session, I addressed members of both chambers in a joint session and encouraged them to support Arkansas Works. The legislature responded, and soon after my address, the Insurance and Commerce Committees in both chambers voted in favor of Arkansas Works by a large majority. Then on Thursday, the second day of the extraordinary session, the legislature voted overwhelmingly in support of Arkansas Works with the State House voting 70-30 and the State Senate voting 25-10 in favor of the legislation. What a great victory for Arkansas – but we’re not done yet.
We’ve debated the policy and reached a majority consensus, and the majority has made it clear that they support the Arkansas Works plan. Now we turn our focus on funding for the program. This will be voted on during next week’s fiscal session, where appropriations need a three-fourths majority in both houses for approval.
The Arkansas Works plan is about more than just policy. It’s about a decision that will impact our communities, our economy, our balanced budget, our healthcare system – and most importantly – the lives of thousands of real people across Arkansas.
It’s about the lady in West Memphis who works full-time at a sandwich shop with a four-year-old daughter and is seven months pregnant. She can have peace of mind knowing that pre-natal care and health coverage is available for her and her children.
It’s about the 60-year-old gentlemen in Jonesboro who has been a self-employed painter and handyman for forty years. His heart problems have slowed his work capability down, but with access to health insurance, he continues to work when he’s able while managing his health issues.
Stories like these remind us of our responsibility to serve people, not causes. To fight for fairness, to work for what’s right and to carry out our responsibility as public servants by creating solutions for our state.
Let us continue to reason together by coming together for a common solution – an Arkansas solution.
More AR Jobs04/01/2016
One of the great parts of being governor is getting invited to events all over the state celebrating community achievements, showcasing outstanding people and, my personal favorite, advancing job creation. That’s exactly what I did last week in Rogers and Jonesboro.
Bekaert Corporation, a world leader in steel wire transformation, has made the decision to expand their manufacturing facility in Rogers. They are investing $32 million in the expansion project, which will create 109 new jobs.
More than 30 percent of all tires are reinforced with Bekaert products. Following the expansion, Raymond Burns, President of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, said that when Bekaert first came to Arkansas, it was the biggest economic project in our state’s history. They saw the competitive advantages of our central location and proximity to customers.
Another surprising factor that played into Bekaert’s relocation was looking into our public education system. The Belgium-based company wanted to ensure they would have skilled workers to employ, and know the children of relocated Belgium workers would be well educated. As a father of four and grandfather, I understand this important concern. But as it turned out, our public school system passed the test, and in 1989, Bekaert selected Rogers for its second Arkansas-based plant.
Few people realize how many products are made of steel wire – staples, nails, fences and more. In order to meet the needs of the market and have the capacity to increase production, an expansion was necessary. And with Rogers housing one of Bekaert’s premier U.S. plants, it was an easy choice to expand their existing Northwest Arkansas plant.
In addition to the Bekaert expansion, I also attended a second announcement in Jonesboro at FMH Conveyors, who is a global leader in material handling equipment for truck loading and unloading applications. They are investing $12.5 million into a new, 195,000 square-foot, custom-built manufacturing facility. The expansion will create 110 new jobs in Jonesboro and will retain 50 existing jobs.
As a lifelong Arkansan, I can attest to the fact that FMH Conveyors has had a presence in Arkansas for many years, and their decision to expand operations is a testament to local talent and resources here. It was a highly competitive process. Mark Young, President of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, credits the Arkansas Economic Development Commission for much of the project’s success. I wanted to do my part as well, so I called the CEO and made the case for Arkansas.
With the help of AEDC and support from my office, FMH Conveyors did their homework and easily saw the quality of the region’s workforce. It’s important to note that every single position represents not just a person, but a family. And for that reason, it’s even more exciting to see the expansion triple the number of existing jobs at FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro.
These expansions, and the many others I’ve attended over the past year, are sending a strong message to companies across the globe that Arkansas is a great place to do business. Both expansion announcements tell a story about Arkansas’s business-friendly communities and our ideal climate for recruiting and retaining industry. Any time our economic base grows, it’s good news for our communities, good news for our families, and it’s good news for Arkansas.
Town Hall Recap03/25/2016
This week, I held my first town hall as governor since I was elected Governor. The town hall was at Central Baptist College in Conway. I was joined by several legislators, local leaders and fellow Arkansans to discuss the future of healthcare in our state and to listen. Town halls are a part of the history of our country, and I love the tradition.
It was especially important because I wanted to give people an opportunity to personally ask me questions regarding Arkansas Works ahead of the April 6th special session. Good points were made from people on both sides of this important issue, and it provided me with important insights. Overall, it was a great experience.
This has been an ongoing debate. The private option in Arkansas, by law, will end in December 2016. The question is, what do we do then? The answer for our state is “Arkansas Works,” which makes substantial, conservative changes to the current program by emphasizing work opportunities, personal responsibility and encouraging employer-based insurance.
Medicaid is a safety net for those who are going through tough times. But ultimately, those who are able-bodied and are able to work should be working. If you’re not working, you should be in job training.
A woman from Pottsville – who has a 14-year-old son that’s been on the developmentally disabled waiting list for years – spoke up about her concerns from the perspective of a mother and educator. She would like to see the waiting list reduced, but without having companies cut benefits to recipients.
I agree finding solutions to reducing the developmentally disabled waitlist is important. That’s why, under my savings plan, we will address this by moving those who have been on the list the longest off that list. And I’m committed to continue reducing the waiver waitlist.
Another audience member asked if it would be possible for Arkansas to get federal waivers for the program changes. After speaking with Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell last month, I am confident we can get these waivers for many of the elements outlined in Arkansas Works.
I was even asked if our state could afford the Arkansas Works program, and the short answer is, yes. Based on the Stephens Group report, the program will actually save Arkansas money over the next five years, while under traditional Medicaid, our state could soon face a major financial pitfall.
Arkansas Works will help us create savings and allow us to continue funding other important areas throughout our state. We have a responsibility to manage the Medicaid program effectively and implement much-needed reforms to make it sustainable.
Logical, common sense approaches that fit our state’s needs have guided the development of Arkansas Works. That’s why hearing directly from the people of Arkansas and listening to their ideas is one of the best ways to accomplish these goals and guide this debate going into the special session.
Touting Arkansas Tourism03/18/2016
Earlier this week, I attended the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Springdale. I had the chance to talk about the growing strength and importance of our state’s tourism industry.
At the conference, Tom Walton, the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, was named “Tourism Person of the Year,” primarily for his work in making Arkansas a premier destination for mountain bikers. Tom has traveled the nation and beyond. And yet, like many of us who've seen the world, there remains a special place in his heart for his native state.
During his acceptance speech, Tom said something that really resonated with me. He asked simply: “What if?”
"What if" we did something unique with our biking trail system? "What if" we started a real quality-of-life movement in the Natural State? "What if" we strived for something bigger and bolder? Blessed with so much natural beauty and the friendliest people on earth, Arkansas is in the “What if?” business — and business is good.
Since 2010, the number of visitors to Arkansas has increased by 23 percent, which has resulted in an increase in state and local tax revenue of 32 percent thanks to all of the visitors spending money in this state.
Often, visitors come back to stay after experiencing all that we have to offer. Look at almost any list of reasons why a business or entrepreneur relocates and, near the top, you'll find those three magic words — quality of life. It's a phrase synonymous with Arkansas.
As our tourism industry grows, so does our tourism infrastructure, which includes everything from hotels and restaurants to our state parks, museums and ever-growing bike trails.
Consider the economic impact of Arkansas’s tourism industry last year:
In 2015, Arkansas welcomed more than 28 million visitors who spent more than $7 billion. That added some $500 million in tax revenue to state and local coffers. Tourism is vital to our economy, and it’s projected to be one of the fastest-growing industries over the next decade.
In my first year as governor, I’ve had opportunities to promote tourism in almost every corner of the state. I took a bike ride along the Delta Heritage Trail. I announced that Bentonville had attracted the 2016 International Mountain Biking World Summit. And just last week at the Governor's Mansion, we celebrated with Rosanne Cash the restoring of the Historic Dyess Colony and the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in the Upper Delta. Already, the Cash home in Dyess is drawing visitors from all over the world.
The other day, I heard a story about a couple from Australia who were passing through. They stopped in our visitor’s center in West Memphis to get a map. What they also received was a warm, friendly welcome from one of our state’s ambassadors working at the center. Thanks to that worker’s passion and enthusiasm, the couple said they would make it a point to spend more time in Arkansas when they returned.
Stories like this are common in our state’s tourism industry; as a state, Arkansas really does stand out above the rest.
Being Responsible With Your Money03/11/2016
This has been a busy week. I detailed my balanced budget for next year to the Arkansas Legislature. Many areas of the budget will remain the same as last year. In fact, most budget items will be funded at the same level.
Under my budget, Arkansas state government will be able to provide the same level of service without major cuts to programs. We will continue to meet the needs of our state. But we will do so with significantly less growth in spending than in last year. My budget incorporates more than $100 million in cuts to income taxes for middle class Arkansans which I fought for in 2015. We will be doing more with less.
Also, last year, I cut many of our state agency budgets by one percent to promote efficiency and save tax payer dollars. Those cuts will remain in place; our state has shown that it can operate more efficiently.
State funding will increase by 2.7 percent next year. This is the result of our state growing and increased demand for state services. It’s important to note that the 2.7 percent is significantly lower than the 3.7 percent annual growth over the past twenty years. State government must meet its many responsibilities, but we will continue to seek budget savings. This includes maintaining the statewide hiring freeze and looking for greater efficiencies.
Under my budget, funding for general K-12 education will increase by more than $23 million to ensure we are staying competitive, meeting our obligations to the schools and supporting our students. Higher education funding at two-year, four-year and technical colleges will remain the same.
To meet the needs of foster children, funding will increase by $20.5 million. This additional funding is needed to help support our foster kids, maybe some of the neediest in our state. Medicaid funding will also increase by $88 million to meet the needs of the program and to account for a drop in the federal government’s share of costs.
These are a few of the budget highlights. It is important to save for unforeseen circumstances down the road, and so we continue to build our rainy day fund with a $4.3 million contribution.
We are also making changes that save money. A year ago, the state had a major problem with the backup of inmates in county jails. Since then, we’ve been able to reduce that backup number from nearly 3,000 inmates to around 1,000. That means the state can reduce the amount it pays for these inmates by $11 million in the next fiscal year. That’s savings we can use elsewhere in the budget. My budget, however, will still ensure that we continue to fund this program promptly and completely, and that state continues to meet its obligations to the counties.
In short, my balanced budget proposal will fully fund our state’s needs while also implementing the $100 million income tax cut for the middle class, which was approved last year by the Legislature.
However, if the Legislature fails to pass the Arkansas Works plan, the Legislature will be required to fill a big hole in the budget. Without Arkansas Works, which encourages work opportunities and allows our state to receive and use federal dollars, Arkansas’s budget will be short by more than $115 million in future years.
In addition, if we are serious about finding real savings to the state’s budget, we must reform Medicaid. The managed care proposal I support is estimated to save nearly $1.5 billion over five years. That’s the sort of savings that can make a dramatic difference in future budgets.
As governor, I do not want to cut funding for areas like foster care, education, public safety or city and county government. We must consider the best course of action for our state, and I am confident the budget I presented will achieve the right balance.
Arkansas School Breakfast Month03/04/2016
As governor, I’m delighted to proclaim March 2016 as “Arkansas School Breakfast Month” to highlight the academic and health benefits of school breakfast programs. It’s been proven that students who eat breakfast are more likely to exhibit better behavior and concentrate more on their classwork throughout the day.
More than 280,000 Arkansas school children qualify for free or reduced priced school meals. However, only 60 percent of these students are eating breakfast at school. By offering breakfast at the beginning of the school day, we are helping to provide a greater foundation for learning.
In fact, studies show that 91 percent of educators believe breakfast is important for student academic achievement. In Arkansas, we are supporting that notion through the Community Eligibility Provision program. It offers high-need Arkansas schools a chance to serve breakfast and lunch to students at no cost.
This is already proving to be a successful approach. Schools and parents are seeing evidence of students benefitting from the school breakfast program in Arkansas. Attendance has improved, academic performance has increased, fewer trips are being made to the school nurse and students are more focused on their classwork. The program is two-fold: Community Eligibility Provision not only helps our kids, but it helps our schools through reimbursement funds that go toward strengthening school nutritional programs and infrastructure.
As we kick-off Arkansas School Breakfast Month, I ask schools that have NOT adopted an alternative breakfast delivery method, to do so for the coming school year. We all share the same goals, and we all want to see our students succeed. I encourage the schools that qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision program to take advantage of these opportunities and to maximize the number of participating students.
Making sure our students have access to a nutritious breakfast at school not only supports my Healthy Active Arkansas plan, but it gives our students a chance to learn with an alert mind and a full stomach. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Let’s teach this to our kids, and help them start out the school day – and every day – the right way.
Zika Virus: Facts and Prevention02/26/2016
There have been a lot of questions surrounding the recent outbreak of Zika virus. As governor, I value the health and safety of all Arkansans and want to do my part to provide people with information about how to help prevent the virus from spreading.
The Arkansas Department of Health is working to promote greater awareness of Zika, evaluating people who may have been exposed to Zika and working with national experts, including the Center for Disease Control, to stay up-to-date on the latest information. The Department of Health is also studying mosquitos in various parts of the state to see where to best direct mosquito control efforts.
In Arkansas we have had only one case, and that was from someone who traveled to an area where Zika infections are occurring. We have not had any evidence of Zika spreading in Arkansas.
Here’s what we know about Zika virus:
In May 2015, Zika first appeared in Brazil. Since then, it has spread to Central and South America, as well as to the Caribbean. Zika virus is spread mainly through mosquito bites.
The primary symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red, itchy eyes. These symptoms are usually mild and last up to a week. However, many people who become infected with Zika virus experience no symptoms at all.
Zika poses the greatest risk to unborn babies of mothers who become infected with the virus. There is evidence suggesting Zika is linked to birth defects, so women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should take precautions and avoid traveling to areas where Zika is present.
Here’s what you can do to prevent the spread of Zika virus in your hometown:
As the weather gets warmer and mosquitos become more rampant, use insect repellants containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus. When outside, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. When indoors, make sure your window and door screens are keeping mosquitos out. Also, empty standing water near your home from containers like flowerpots or buckets to prevent mosquitos from breeding.
For more information about Zika virus and what you can do to help prevent it from spreading, please visit cdc.gov/zika or call the Arkansas Department of Health at (501) 661-2000.
Congressional App Challenge02/19/2016
Last week, I enjoyed visiting with several students who competed in the Congressional App Challenge. The competition was designed to encourage high school students to use computer coding to create their own apps. The students I met were bright, energetic, capable and full of ideas. After meeting with them, I am even more excited about the future of our state and the future of our kids.
Arkansas leaders and educators are on board with the coding initiative, and I applaud Congressman Bruce Westerman for hosting the Congressional App Challenge in Arkansas’s fourth district. In total, 26 students across seven school districts competed in this year’s challenge. The 11 projects came from high school students from South and Central Arkansas.
The competition not only drew involvement from students, but from schools and local leaders who support this effort. The district’s winning app was created by four Hamburg High School students, called “ARSchools.” The app project helped make the Hamburg School District’s website more mobile-friendly by filtering excess amounts of information to streamline the user experience.
I want to brag on the work being done in Hamburg; a small town in South Arkansas with a population of about 3,000 people. Hamburg High School currently has 40 students taking computer science classes. The interest for these classes was so high that the school had to turn people away. But next year, Hamburg is hoping on expanding its course capacity to 80 seats.
Many schools who competed in the app challenge used the MIT app inventor to create their projects—not Hamburg. Those four students decided to write their own code from scratch with a text-based coding language called C#.
These are some incredible kids, and following this project, three of the four Hamburg competitors have decided to major in computer science. The coding initiative in Arkansas has changed the course of these students’ career paths, exposing them to the world of coding and developing their passion for this field. I want to recognize Hamburg High School’s computer science teacher and head football coach, Cecil Cossey. Thank you for making computer coding education a big success in a small town with great kids.
Seeing the Congressional App Challenge engage students and their communities in Central and South Arkansas is extraordinary. These young people have learned the coding skills to be able to produce something tangible with a purpose. I commend Congressman Westerman for his efforts to spearhead this initiative, and recognize all of our federal delegation who are working to expand coding opportunities for every Arkansas student.
Keep in mind that the key part of this initiative is that it brings together students, ideas, problem-solving and technology. The world of computer coding is exciting, allowing people of any age to test their abilities and use digital tools to create something never been done before. These skills are useful in any career, and can be found in everything we do.
And most importantly, it’s for everyone who is willing to learn. We are changing from being consumers to being creators and innovators. And it’s setting all of us on the road to success.
Celebrating Arkansas Black History02/12/2016
February is a month for many things, but perhaps most importantly, it’s a month of remembrance. It’s a time to celebrate Black History and share the stories and legacies that contribute to our nation’s place in history.
Every day I see the monument of the Little Rock Nine on the north end of our capitol grounds. The monument silently captures the struggle of nine African American school children who stood for equality and civil justice for all. It not only reminds me of my responsibility, but it captures a significant piece of both Arkansas and American history.
It’s important for everyone to understand the contributions of African Americans to this country. We honor their achievements by remembering how they fought for the cause of freedom and their contributions to the areas of business, education, medicine and more. They have had a hand in changing the face of this nation, and it’s imperative for us to be a careful guardian of these historic stories. The truth of them, the accuracy of events, the passion involved, and the pain of their struggle—all deserves a place in history and preservation for future generations.
I want to talk about two people from Arkansas that made a significant contribution to American history.
Edith Irby Jones, born in 1927 to a sharecropper and a maid in Conway, became the first African American accepted at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Amidst segregation, she earned her medical degree and became the first female president of the National Medical Association. She fought the struggle, she was successful, and she is a modern day example for women of any race and color.
Another notable Arkansan, John Herald Johnson, was born in Arkansas City and survived the flood of 1927. He sat atop the river levees with black and white children who huddled together, simply trying to survive. It was during this hardship that Johnson developed an eye for news, and went on to found the Johnson Publishing Company, which today has the brand names of “Ebony” and “Jet.” He was an incredible entrepreneur, publisher, and his roots trace back to Arkansas.
These are just two of many inspiring stories of people from Arkansas and throughout our nation that helped shape the world. There are many others we can celebrate, and I encourage you to find and tell those stories. But today, as governor, I’m pleased to participate in Black History Month and remember the history of all Americans.
We must never forget the pain of the past, nor lose sight of the promise of our future. African American history IS American history, and I am proud to share and remember – today and everyday – the legacies of people who have changed this nation for the better.
We have a lot to be proud of in Arkansas.
Over the past year, we have worked to grow our economy, create more high-paying jobs, cut taxes for the middle class and introduce computer science at every high school. Our list of accomplishments is long, but there is still much to do.
Arkansas is a small state, but we do a lot of big things. Since January of last year, Arkansas’s Economic Development Commission signed incentive agreements with 122 new and expanding companies. These companies will create more than 5,600 new jobs while investing $2 billion in the state.
We are cultivating an environment of economic growth, and the world is taking notice. I’ve touted our economic success in California’s Silicon Valley, Nevada and New York. My international travels to China, Japan, France, Germany and Cuba have also given me opportunities to emphasize that Arkansas is open for business.
Everywhere I go, I market our state. Why? Because we have a story to tell. And that story includes seven small homegrown businesses that have grown into seven Fortune 500 companies.
We have some of the brightest minds here in Arkansas, and we have the tools to provide industry with opportunities to do great things. As a business owner, you don’t have to live in New York, California, or Texas to see your business grow. Our state stands ready and able to compete in a rapidly evolving, high-tech worldwide economy.
But we need to continue growing our existing businesses, creating new businesses and enticing businesses to locate and expand here. That’s where “Arkansas Inc.” comes in.
“Arkansas Inc.” is a succinct way for us to communicate that Arkansas is in the business of growing business. When it comes down to it, businesses must be lean, fast and focused. In Arkansas, we recognize the needs of industry and can respond quickly and decisively. We are sending a message to high level executives and site consultants that Arkansas is and continues to be a great place to do business.
The launch of “Arkansas Inc.” comes in partnership with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Arkansas Economic Developers from across the state, who work tirelessly to advance the quality of life in Arkansas through economic growth and community development.
Without their efforts and vision, “Arkansas Inc.” would be nothing more than a catchphrase. But today, it is sending a message that when you do business in Arkansas, you’re in very good company.
Teach For America01/29/2016
Being from a small town, I understand the need and the challenge of recruiting top quality teachers to rural parts of the state. There is a real need for talented teachers in every part of Arkansas, especially in our low-income communities.
That’s why I was delighted to announce a partnership with Teach For America this week. The state is investing $3 million to bring 150 teachers to rural school districts in Arkansas over the next three years. These teachers will reach over 9,000 students in eastern and southern Arkansas.
But there’s more. Business community leaders in Little Rock have matched our investment, bringing the total for this project to $6 million. That means Teach For America will send 65 new teachers to the Little Rock district for the first time, and will target the district’s highest-need schools over the course of three years. Not only will students in south and east Arkansas benefit from Teach For America educators, but so will more than 4,000 students in the Little Rock School District.
This initiative is two-fold; it’s an opportunity to utilize the talents of incredible teachers and a chance to inspire our young people. These teachers come to the Natural State to fulfill a two-year teaching commitment. But for many, they stay long after that initial commitment. In fact, to date, more than 185 Teach For America educators have continued teaching long after their original commitment ended.
What’s so unique about Teach For America is that these teachers want to be challenged. They want to invest in the lives and education of underserved students. But above all else, they want to make a difference. And they do. Already, Teach For America has sent educators to teach students in Lee, Phillips, Chicot, Jefferson and Union counties.
I see potential for these teachers to help rejuvenate our schools and help our students thrive—especially within rural districts facing extra challenges in recruiting and retaining top quality teachers.
It is up to us to help provide every child in Arkansas with an opportunity to succeed. That starts with having access to a good education. I’ve certainly had my fair share of excellent educators and mentors who shaped the way I see the world, and even the way I see myself.
Arkansas is already blessed with incredibly talented and hardworking teachers throughout the state. And now, with the addition of Teach For America educators, I have no doubt that together we can inspire the next generation of Arkansas students.
New Highway Program Proposal01/22/2016
This week I wanted to visit with you about Arkansas highways. The facts are we have declining revenue for our highways and our needs are greater than ever. And then we need additional funds for Arkansas to access new federal money that has been made available in recent federal highway program.
The new federal highway legislation will provide Arkansas with $200 million a year for new road funding, but it requires a match from the state. We need $46 million in matching funds by September of this year, and an average of $50 million each year into the future.
After hearing from the Highway Working Group, members of the legislature, industry leaders and others, I have outlined a bold, yet realistic plan for funding Arkansas highways.
For the first time in our state’s history, we will make a meaningful contribution to our highways from general revenue funds, which in the past provided less than one percent of our highway needs. It’s important to note that my plan to use general revenue for highways will not reduce available funding for other critical needs like education, child welfare, criminal justice and more.
But a key part of the plan is that we will NOT raise taxes to fund our highways. Specifically, there will be no new taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel or sales tax. With our economy still on the mend and with families who are still struggling to make ends meet, now is not the time to raise taxes.
This new program allows us to access billions of dollars in federal highway money – all without raising taxes.
In the first year of my highway plan, Arkansas will primarily use unobligated surplus funds to provide the federal match of $46 million. In later years, the highway program will generate revenue from road user items such as a portion of existing sales tax on new and used cars. This will not raise or change the taxes Arkansans already pay on vehicles they drive. It will be phased in over time and capped at $25 million. There are other sources of revenue involved as well, but none will affect taxes or our ability to meet our budget obligations.
My final recommendation is using 25 percent of our budget surplus each year for highways. This will be done after education and our other critical budget needs are met.
Highway infrastructure is key to our state’s economic development and growth, and this plan should act as a catalyst for that growth by allowing us to increase our investment in highways without placing an unnecessary burden on Arkansas taxpayers. The plan I presented accomplishes both objectives.
Everyone wants effective and accessible roadways in Arkansas. These highways help people get to work on time, visit loved ones and travel our incredible state. They also provide avenues for our farmers and businesses to transport products across the state for increased economic growth.
I recognize that this critical need must be addressed, but I also understand the financial burdens we all face in today’s economy.
This plan is adaptable and it is realistic for Arkansas. And those are two factors I am confident will make it sustainable for years to come. The plan follows my conservative approach to governing and to budgeting, regardless of our ever-changing economy.
Arkansans and their families matter, and that’s why this highway plan is necessary and will help create better jobs and add to our quality of life.
Going Back to Gravette01/15/2016
This afternoon I will be visiting three schools in Gravette, a small town in Northwest Arkansas. As a Gravette native, I am excited to get back to the place where I grew up on a farm on the Spavinaw Creek south of town.
When I was a teenager my family moved to Springdale where I graduated from high school. But I’ve always had a love for my farm roots and for Gravette. Perhaps, it’s because I had my first real job in Gravette. After school every day I shined shoes at Johnny’s barbershop. I built up quite a clientele and a year later I sold my shoe shining business for $25. Yes, I was quite the entrepreneur.
So, today I am going back to Gravette to recognize the good work being done for their students. When Principal Jay Chalk came to Gravette High School in 2012, roughly 45 percent of graduating classes were not planning on going to college or technical school.
Principal Chalk decided to change that statistic. He started looking into expanding Gravette High School’s course offerings to address the career needs of these students. Now, three career training programs are available at Gravette High School to help give students a leg-up after graduation. The programs include training in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, Certified Nursing Assistant and a new welding program.
All of these programs have three things in common. They are short-term, meaning students can complete them in just two years. They offer concurrent credit with a local community college. And, these programs offer professional certification, making students immediately employable after high school and after they earn their certificate.
And what are the results? In the past two years alone, Gravette High School’s graduation rate has increased from 80 percent to 90 percent. This increase is especially noticeable in Alternative Learning Students who are at a higher risk of dropping out. The career training programs are keeping these kids in school and motivating them to complete courses that lead to employment after graduation.
What’s being done at Gravette High School and throughout Benton County strongly aligns with my workforce initiative. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to equip students with job skills that meet the needs of industry. Whether it’s welding, teaching, computer coding or manufacturing, we must do our part to prepare our students for success.
Career training programs at Gravette High School and across Arkansas are helping drive our economy forward. They are providing opportunities for our young people to attain employment, setting them on a path to success in any career.
However, this effort is about more than the students. It’s about our economy and providing opportunities for every Arkansan to be successful in the workforce. Offering expanded career training programs with community partnerships is a combination that puts Arkansas ahead of the game.
Growing up in Gravette shaped my life many years ago, and I’m proud to see the high school shaping the lives of students today. Keep up the good work.
Serving Those Who Served01/08/2016
On Wednesday I held a media availability in my office to talk about some of our state’s most pressing issues. In my opening remarks, I called special attention to the work being done for our veterans.
I am pleased to recognize the efforts of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs and Director Matt Snead for helping improve the lives of our veterans in Arkansas. Until recently, veterans across this state had to travel to North Little Rock to receive assistance and access services offered by the VA. But now, four new regional offices are open and ready to serve our veterans locally.
Our Veterans Affairs Department has been working over the last several months to provide veterans with services closer to home. In addition to the four newly-opened offices, another center in Forrest City will be operational next week.
The goal of these new centers is to better serve nearly 250,000 veterans living in Arkansas. If veterans were an industry, they would be the fourth largest in Arkansas, with an economic impact $4.5 billion. They represent an important part of our state economy and a highly skilled workforce.
Most importantly, our veterans have served our country with honor and sacrifice.
And here’s what we’ve done so far:
In November, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge joined for a ribbon cutting at Fayetteville’s new veteran service office. This center will serve more than 36,000 service men and women in Northwest Arkansas.
In December, two more offices were opened in Jonesboro and Mountain Home. The office in Jonesboro will serve Northeast Arkansas—a region with nearly 21,000 veterans. The Mountain Home center, located on the Arkansas State University Mountain Home Campus, serves more than 23,000 veterans in North Central Arkansas.
This month, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin went to Fort Smith for the opening of another regional office. This marks the fourth consecutive office opening in Arkansas over the past three months. The Fort Smith office will provide support to counties with more than 22,000 Arkansas veterans. No longer will these vets need to travel to Central Arkansas to directly access services.
Each of the regional offices are part of our long-term strategic plan, which I reviewed and approved last year. By regionalizing these offices, the veteran service officer network can operate more effectively and conveniently for ALL our service men and women.
And that’s not all. In addition to the Forrest City office opening on January 14, plans are in the works for three more centers in Monticello, Russellville and Hope. Soon, every Arkansas veteran will be able to have direct access to veteran support officers and the resources they need.
Without the sacrifice of our veterans, we would not be able to enjoy the freedom we have today. As Governor, it is important to say thank you, and God bless our men and women who have served and those who continue to serve. We are forever in your debt.
We’re Not Done Yet12/31/2015
It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the end of 2015, but what a year it has been. At my inauguration back in January, I promised a new day in Arkansas – an era focused on job creation, tax cuts and computer science education.
One year later, there are approximately 33,000 more Arkansans employed than before I took office. In 2015 alone, we announced new jobs and company expansions in every region of the state – with investments totaling nearly $2 billion.
We took the story of Arkansas to the world, touting the state’s defense industry and steel manufacturing capabilities to Europe; showcasing our agriculture community to Cuba; and pitching the incredible economic potential of South Arkansas to China and Japan. The seeds are being planted, and we’re not done yet.
What we do here in Arkansas matters to people all over the globe, and 2015 underscored that message.
With unanimous support from the legislature, we passed the most comprehensive computer science education law in the country. And earlier this month, we announced the first-of-its-kind K-8 standards in computer science. As noted by Code.org and WIRED magazine, the state of Arkansas is now the national leader in computer science education.
And starting in 2016, Arkansans will benefit from the largest income tax cut in our state’s history – more than $100 million.
Through the support of our citizens and members of the legislature, we’re making great strides in our state’s foster care system, workforce training and prison reform by giving non-violent offenders a second chance.
But for all we’ve accomplished in 2015, there is plenty left to do. In fact, the work is just beginning. As we head into 2016, topics such as health care, highway funding and criminal justice reform will take center stage. These are critical issues, but nothing is too big for our state.
After all, Arkansans can do anything, because – well – we have done everything, and in 2016, we’ll prove that to be true once again. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your governor. It’s the greatest public honor I will ever have. From my family to yours, Happy New Year.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays12/23/2015
The holiday season is a magical time of year. Christmas brings back fond memories and helps us create new ones we treasure with family and friends.
Susan and I love getting ready for Christmas. She enjoys decorating our home with “pretty things,” as she calls them, putting up everything from brightly-lit Christmas trees to singing reindeer. But even the most beautiful decorations can’t compare with spending time with our families. Nothing beats celebrating the holidays with our children and grandchildren. And each year, the greatest gift we receive by far is simply being together.
Everyone has their own special holiday traditions. At the beginning of the Hanukkah season, I had the privilege of being the first governor to light the first candle of the Little Rock Chabad Menorah. The Menorah Lighting Ceremony was a humbling experience. Lighting the first candle was a bright reminder that it only takes one small light to illuminate the darkness.
I also had an opportunity last week to host the “Christmas at the Capitol” event where we collected gifts for our state’s foster children. I want to personally thank everyone who took the time to donate a Christmas gift. It’s a simple gesture, but it will make more of an impact than you’ll ever know. After all, giving is a big part of what Christmas is all about. Wherever you go and whatever you do this holiday season, make it a priority to give back to someone else.
Take advantage of every opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life this holiday season. Cherish this time with your family, give back to others and share the joy of the season wherever you go.
God bless, and Merry Christmas.
A Great Week for a Tremendous Year12/18/2015
Over the past week, I have attended three major jobs announcements.
In Siloam Springs, Simmons Foods announced a new pet food ingredient facility near their company’s home office. According to Simmons Foods, the facility will create 78 new jobs with an economic impact of $50 million.
In Batesville, Bad Boy Mowers expanded its operations by investing nearly $7.8 million into a larger property for their existing facility. The expansion will add 160 new jobs and bring the total employment of Bad Boy Mowers to 750 people. In each of the past two years, the company has averaged more than 33 percent growth—and that is quite an accomplishment.
In Lowell, J.B. Hunt expanded its corporate headquarters and is adding more than 1,000 jobs in Arkansas over the next six years. As one of the largest transportation companies in North America, this is great news for our ever-growing Northwest Arkansas community.
When you do the math, these three announcements have added more than 1,240 new jobs to Arkansas’s economy in the last week alone. What a great way to cap off the year.
When you’re building the economy in Arkansas, or in any state, it’s important for people to have confidence in the direction we’re going. When people are optimistic about the future, it will increase spending and increase investment in our state.
Success is built upon how you invest your time and your leadership. Since I took office last January, there are now more than 33,000 Arkansans who are newly employed. We’ve announced thousands of new jobs and nearly $2 billion in investments through company expansions across every region of the state. As governor, I want to build a future for Arkansas including economic growth, job creation and expanding Arkansas’s economy.
What a great week, and tremendous year, for job creation in Arkansas. All of these milestones are physical evidence of Arkansas’s momentum. And as the New Year approaches, we’re not slowing down anytime soon.
Almost a year ago, I announced my support for a legislative task force to determine the future of the Medicaid program in Arkansas. This Healthcare Task Force is set to make recommendations in the near future.
This taskforce provides the opportunity to create a new and different approach for providing healthcare in this state. We have a responsibility to help those going through challenging times. However, we need to make sure people are motivated to work versus providing incentives for people not to work. We want to provide a safety net; we want to provide health coverage for those making less than 138 percent of the poverty level, but we also want people to move up the economic ladder.
The Healthcare Task Force is hard at work and I am asking the legislators to consider a new strategy and a new plan. It’s called “Arkansas Works.” The brand illustrates what we are trying to achieve—help Arkansans attain jobs and invest in their own healthcare.
This is what I envision for “Arkansas Works.” It is a program that incentivizes people to work, focuses on employer-based insurance, encourages personal responsibility and assures the financial integrity of the program.
People who are capable and able-bodied deserve an opportunity to climb the economic ladder. “Arkansas Works” will be a system that incentivizes people to do just that.
As a state, we cannot build a healthcare system where people are opting out of health insurance provided by their employer. I want to see a greater emphasis on employer-based insurance, not government-based insurance.
A critical element in this discussion is encouraging personal responsibility. Everyone should have some investment in their own healthcare. That being said, there should be consequences for those who are not paying their premiums or failing to take responsibility.
One of the responsibilities of government is to keep an eye on taxpayers’ dollars. We need to make sure providers are doing what they should be doing and that people who need coverage are receiving coverage. And those who are able to make their own way have the resources and motivation to do so without having to rely on government-based healthcare. That’s why program integrity is key.
This is the time for a solution that works for Arkansas. People can take an active role in their own healthcare by getting checkups, eating properly and living a healthier, active lifestyle. I also want our employees to take charge of their health.
As we reform our Medicaid program, I want Arkansas priorities to guide the effort. By working together, we can reduce overall healthcare costs, help people get back to work and feel better about their lives.
With “Arkansas Works” there’s nowhere to go but forward.
Growing Computer Science Education12/04/2015
Mustard seeds are about 1-2 millimeters in diameter. That’s about one-third the size of a single grain of rice. But when you plant that tiny mustard seed, it grows to be nine-feet tall. Why? Because that little seed was given the time and resources to grow into something big.
What started out as a small idea has turned the nation’s focus on Arkansas. In less than a year, we have successfully implemented computer science courses in every public and charter high school. With nearly 4,000 students enrolled in these classes in the first year of this initiative, I think it’s safe to say that a small idea has grown into something big.
In fact, in our first year, we have already met the majority of national computer science recommendations from Code.org. And now, we have taken this another step further. The Arkansas Department of Education has created standards introducing computer science concepts to students in grades K-8.
The development of the K-8 standards is a huge achievement for our schools, our businesses, and most importantly, our kids. Through this groundbreaking initiative, Arkansas continues to lead the nation in computer science education. No other state is better preparing the next generation for 21st century jobs.
The K-8 standards will go in front of the Board of Education for approval by January 2016. I encourage you to visit the Department of Education’s website and provide feedback through their public opinion survey. Everyone has a role to play in this effort, especially our education community.
This announcement comes at a key time as we kick off National Computer Science Education Week. To date, there are over 850 registered “Hour of Code” events in Arkansas that will be going on statewide. These events are for students to learn the basics of coding concepts through a one-hour tutorial. The First Lady and I are pleased to host one of these events at the Governor’s Mansion next week.
We are expecting more than 100 middle and high school girls to attend the “Girls of Promise Coding Summit.” This is a great opportunity to encourage young women to get involved in computer coding. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—coding is for everyone.
Arkansas has set the national bar at the high school level, and we are on our way to doing it again in grades K-8.
Small things can make a big difference.
Click here to view report from the Computer Science and Technology in Public School Task Force.
Click here to view photos from Friday's (12/4/15) announcement at eStem High School in Little Rock.
Doing More Than Giving Thanks11/25/2015
In my family, Thanksgiving has always been a day for food, fellowship, and football. During the holiday season, family members are busy with activities like cooking the Thanksgiving feast, taste-testing homemade pies and throwing the football around with the grandkids. But as we make our preparations for this year’s Thanksgiving, we cannot forget to be grateful for our many blessings.
Here in Arkansas, we have a lot to be grateful for. Our state is known for its thriving agricultural community, vibrant tourism industry, breathtaking scenery and, especially, its people. We can be thankful for a year of economic growth, the creation of new jobs statewide and greater opportunities for our students and citizens to succeed. And let’s not forget to give thanks for thrilling Razorback victories over Ole Miss and LSU.
As we celebrate and give thanks, let us remember to reach out to those who may be struggling during this joyous time. For some, the holidays can be a difficult time of the year. Those in our local communities may be suffering loss, loneliness, hunger or financial hardships. These people need our prayers, our kindness and our support.
Here at the Capitol, my staff is holding an office food drive to help fight senior hunger. Many of you may be doing similar work to help the men and women in your lives at offices, schools and churches across your community. Among other things, Arkansans are naturals at helping out.
One of my favorite authors, Henry Van Dyke, once said, “There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.”
This time of year isn’t just about giving—it’s about doing. For those who are able, I encourage you to find opportunities to serve others who may not be able. For those who plan to gather with family and friends, I encourage you to include people who may be alone during the holidays. Sometimes, all it takes is a warm welcome and a good meal to make a positive difference.
Vigilance in the Face of Terror11/20/2015
The horrific and inhumane acts of terror perpetrated in Paris over the weekend are reminders of the critical role of homeland security and how vigilant we must remain in the fight against terrorism. Some of the attackers reportedly posed as refugees to gain entrance into France — an issue that should concern all Americans.
As governor, my chief responsibility is to keep our state and people safe, which is why I have decided to oppose Arkansas being used as a relocation center for Syrian refugees.
I urge President Obama and Congress to act to protect our country during this time of heightened global tension. While we don’t have the authority on the state level to change federal policy, my fellow governors and I do have a duty to protect our states’ citizens, and we have a personal responsibility to act when we have the power to do so.
Like all Americans, Arkansans hurt for the Syrian refugees. The hardships they face are beyond most of our understanding, and my thoughts and prayers are with them, but I will not support a policy that poses real risk to Americans.
It is also not the best solution. Europe, Asia and Africa are more logical places for resettlement or temporary asylum. I know that the United States will support our European friends in fighting ISIL, but the right strategy is not for this country to become a permanent place of relocation.
We live in a world where terrorists coordinate attacks on innocent civilians at a soccer game, fly airplanes into office buildings and eagerly trade their lives to murder others — often in the name of religious zealotry and hatred of the West.
We ignore these realities at our peril. We ignore this world at the risk of another terrorist attack. And another. And another.
Without some degree of certainty that refugees from Syria will not provide cover for terrorists, I cannot in good conscience allow my state to be their sanctuary.
We cannot let our guard down in the face of terror.
Note: This article was originally published in the November 18, 2015 edition of USA Today.
AR Mission to Asia11/13/2015
Sometimes being Governor of Arkansas requires being a salesman of sorts. Next week, I leave home to pitch Arkansas to international business leaders. Luckily, I have an incredible product to sell. That’s the Natural State, with all it has to offer new and expanding businesses.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll be on the road again to promote and sell Arkansas to the world. Mike Preston, Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and I will be leading a trade mission to Japan and China.
This will be my third major trade mission out of the country since taking office. I’ve already been to Europe and Cuba. While in Europe, we focused on the aerospace and steel industries at trade shows in France and Germany. In Cuba, our focus was on creating trade opportunities for poultry, rice and agricultural products.
In Asia, our purpose is twofold:
First, we want to recruit new industry to Arkansas. I’ll be meeting with more than a dozen companies and contacting government officials in both countries.
Second, we want to visit with companies that already have investments in the United States — particularly in Arkansas.
There are 18 Japanese companies located in Arkansas, and they employ more than 5,400 people. Nucor-Yamato Steel and Rheem Manufacturing are two of the largest foreign-owned companies in our state. I want to ensure that these and other international companies have what they need to stay and grow in our state.
In China, we will visit several provinces, meet with government officials and reach out to businesses. I especially want to make the connection between Arkansas and one of China’s biggest retail companies — Walmart.
I think we have failed to truly capitalize on that connection. As Walmart’s international headquarters, Arkansas has a home-field edge over other states — and we should take advantage of that. In recent years, Walmart has put an emphasis on returning manufacturing to the United States. For those Chinese companies looking to do business with Walmart, there’s no better place to locate than right here in Arkansas.
It is important to recognize that business is conducted differently in China than here in the United States. To a certain extent, businesses in China are still centrally controlled by the government. This is why it is so vital to meet these leaders face-to-face and establish relationships on Asian soil. It is imperative that we get the word out about Arkansas. And when the word comes directly from the state’s chief executive, it gets a little more attention.
This trade mission will produce results over time. Doing business in Arkansas is a concept that I can sell all day, anywhere.
Keeping Arkansas Beautiful11/06/2015
In 1995, Arkansas officially changed its nickname to “The Natural State.”
What could be more fitting? Arkansas is a land known for its clear rivers and lakes, abundant wildlife, lush valleys, plains and woodlands. Arkansas has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful states in the country. That’s something we can be proud of. But nothing spoils spending time in the Arkansas outdoors quite like litter.
When I was a boy, I remember President Kennedy urging Americans to live more active lives by challenging us to take a 50-mile hike. At the age of 12, I took the President’s charge to the nation as a personal challenge. So I began a 30-mile footrace from Springdale to Gravette.
This is a beautiful area with fertile plains and forest, sitting at the foothills of the Ozarks. But one of the things I remember most during that 30-mile walk, other than the exhaustion that hit me around mile 16, was my sadness at seeing pieces of litter strewn along the road as I walked.
When I think of that experience, I think not only of the beauty of the Ozarks, but also the litter. That’s not the way I want to remember being outdoors in Arkansas.
I’m sure you feel the same way.
Last month, more than 200 volunteers took part in the Great Arkansas River Cleanup. These volunteers contributed more than 767 hours picking up trash at eight locations along the Arkansas River.
Each cleanup event was organized by community leaders in Ozark, Van Buren, Russellville, Fort Smith, Little Rock and North Little Rock, but any group or organization in Arkansas can register for one in their community as well. In the end, the Great Arkansas River Cleanup removed 7,700 pounds of litter from the Arkansas River. That’s good … But it’s also too much litter.
The Arkansas River provides navigable waters for commerce, recreation, and some of the best fishing in the country. It’s our responsibility to keep it clean to provide a better Natural State for visitors and Arkansans alike. We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to take care of what God has blessed us with. Plus, statistics show that clean communities have a better chance of attracting greater economic development. Keeping our state clean is good business.
That’s on us, Arkansas. Together, let’s keep Arkansas beautiful — and natural.
My Favorite Topic10/30/2015
Last week I was in Fort Smith talking to the Regional Chamber of Commerce about my favorite topic: economic growth.
In Sebastian County alone over the last five years, 15 new and expanding companies have created over 1,400 new jobs and brought an investment of more than $238 million into the county.
But that’s not all. In addition to these businesses, ArcBest recently broke ground on its new corporate headquarters, creating 975 new jobs. That brings Sebastian County’s grand total to more than 2,400 new jobs in the last five years. This good jobs news is a testament to the local leadership, the quality of life in Arkansas, our improving workforce and a dedicated approach to economic development.
This upward trend of job growth hasn’t been confined to the areas in and around Fort Smith. Across the state, businesses are growing and thriving. Last month, I was in Mountain Home when Baxter International announced the addition of 225 new, full-time jobs in its manufacturing facility. In Melbourne, Micro Plastics invested $2.4 million to build and expand its facility. Over time, this will create 79 new jobs.
Since January, more than 80 new and expanding companies have signed agreements with our state’s Economic Development Commission, ultimately resulting in over 2,600 new jobs and nearly $1.7 billion in new investments for the state.
The way the economy works has always fascinated me. Like so many Arkansans, I was raised to have an entrepreneurial spirit. I think it must be in the water here.
When I was a youngster, I started my own shoe-shining business in a local barbershop in downtown Gravette. It grew into a nice little business. After establishing my brand and a good reputation, I sold the business to a friend for $25. I worked hard, I provided a needed service, and I made a profit. That mentality has stuck with me, and it influences my perspective and work ethic to this day.
On my first full day in office as Governor, I made calls to chief executives across the country to let them know that Arkansas is open for business. I made the calls to fulfill a campaign promise but also to set a tone, to send a message that we are aggressively marketing our state. This is something I continue to do on a regular basis.
I’ll end my workweek later today by meeting one-on-one with a CEO. Everything we do, from education to healthcare, revolves around jobs and economic development.
The world has changed. If I were coming of age now, I may be launching a web business instead of a shoeshine stand. But the spirit behind the business remains the same. By our nature, Arkansans are hardworking, innovative and pioneering — and those traits pay off in any age.
Secret Weapons of Computer Science10/23/2015
Teachers like Gerri McCann are our schools’ secret weapons. As a high school French teacher from the Manila Public School District, Ms. McCann’s first impression of computer coding was that it was like “learning another foreign language.” But she realized its importance and dived right in. By the end of her training, she was confident enough to add teaching Computer Science to her other subjects, including French, English and Literacy Ready classes. Now Ms. McCann can offer her students even more opportunities to succeed beyond high school.
Learning the “foreign language” of coding was challenging, even for someone who began her career teaching French. But Ms. McCann understood the value of coding and earned a master’s degree in Information Systems. Why would she do that? To better prepare her students for a technologically driven world — a world in which computers touch everything.
This fall, for the first time, every public high school in Arkansas offers a computer coding class. Thanks to our computer science initiative, our students can also master this “foreign language” — and I’m pleased to report that thousands of them are signing on.
The numbers are in. This year, we have more than doubled the number of students enrolled in high school computer science classes. A total enrollment of over 4,500 students are taking one or more of our 14 coding courses. That’s an increase of 260 percent over a year ago and an increase of 472 percent over the previous school year. These numbers are very encouraging, but we can do better.
To compete in any field in the 21st Century, you need computer skills. They’re almost as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic. Quickly changing technology can leave unprepared workers out of a job. But here in Arkansas, by introducing students to computer science at an early age, we can give them a competitive advantage.
In the words of Ms. McCann, computer science classes “need to be the new norm.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s exciting to see so many students sign up for computer coding. Having been raised in a high-tech world, this generation “gets it.” So do teachers like Gerri McCann. We have the Arkansas advantage of forward-thinking educators who are stepping up to bridge the technology gap in the classroom.
That also needs to be the “new norm.”
A Healthy Active Arkansas10/16/2015
A few years ago, the folks at Nabholz Construction in Conway noticed that rising health expenses were driving up insurance costs and eating into profits.
This wasn’t good for the health of the company or its employees.
So the executives at Nabholz looked closely at their health insurance to find the areas that were driving the dollars. They were easy to pinpoint. High blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and obesity were the biggest culprits.
Facing an ever-steady rise in insurance costs, Nabholz came up with a Wellness plan.
First, it established health parameters for its employees, using medically accepted standards and tying those standards to incentive pay.
Then, if an employee met the standards, he or she earned money. Since Nabholz pays 100 percent of its employees’ monthly premiums, this was a real financial incentive for workers.
But how does Nabholz save money with this plan?
Jayme Mayo, the company’s wellness director, says that preventing one heart attack saves about $80,000 in health costs. With some 1,700 employees on the Nabholz Wellness plan, the prevention of three or four heart attacks a year easily pays for the program.
Result: Nabholz saves about $1.1 million a year. And almost 100 percent of its employees on the plan earn the incentive pay.
Other companies are looking to emulate the Nabholz plan, including Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, which just launched its program.
Jayme says the success of the Wellness plan has also helped recruit and retain employees. “This is something that helps set us apart,” she says. “It’s smart business.”
On Wednesday, I was pleased to be part of a coalition that launched the Healthy Active Arkansas plan — which outlines a set of guidelines to help Arkansans take better care of their health.
Jayme Mayo was there, as was my surgeon general, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, and a cross-section of health, business, education and government leaders. The idea is simple: Health affects everything. It affects how we live, do business and grow economically.
An unhealthy Arkansas is an expensive proposition. According to recent data, 40 percent of costs for obesity-related conditions are financed by Medicare and Medicaid. Those are public dollars.
And look at some of the other costs of unhealthy living in Arkansas:
• $2.1 billion in hospital charges for heart disease;
• $57 million in hospital costs for stroke;
• and $3.6 million in costs for hypertension.
All of these expenses can be traced back to how we take care of ourselves. Or don’t.
I’m not one for government mandates. On this important issue, I want this coalition to lead by example. Just the way Nabholz has done.
The leaders at that longstanding Arkansas company took a different approach to healthcare and insurance. They educated their employees, got their buy-in, and improved the health of their company.
As Jayme Mayo said, that’s smart business.
Biking the Natural State10/09/2015
I love the outdoors. As the summer weather winds down and the fall leaves turn, there’s no better place to be than right here in Arkansas. We’re known as the Natural State for a reason. Our moderate year-round climate and stunning landscape are perfect for outdoor activities, especially biking on one of our scenic trails.
The trail system for mountain biking in Arkansas is one of our best-kept secrets — although word is getting out fast. A story in one national publication wrote of our biking trails: “How could one area have such a diverse amount of riding? If this system was anywhere in Colorado, it would be packed, constantly. But riding in Arkansas is still a bit of a secret.”
Our five Epic Trails recognized by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) make Arkansas a premier biking destination. And it seems as if we are steadily adding more trails across the state to meet demand.
This Sunday, I’ll take a five-mile ride along the new Delta Heritage Trail near Helena-West Helena. This trail is perfect for biking and hiking. Once complete, it will meander for some 85 miles and include views from bridges that span the Arkansas and White rivers. I can’t wait to bike through some of these scenic areas of the Delta, and I encourage you to join me in this free trail ride. The event begins at 1:30 p.m. at the Delta Heritage Trail State Park visitor center in Barton. All you’ll need is a bicycle and a helmet.
Our state has so much to offer travelers and folks who love the outdoors. Last year, Arkansas hosted 26 million visitors who spent $6.7 billion while traveling the Natural State. Here’s a telling piece of research: Of those visitors who stayed overnight, five percent said they were going biking. We expect that number to grow.
We’ve known for a while that next year’s world summit of the IMBA will be in Northwest Arkansas. It will be the first time this big event has been held outside of “mountain states” such as Colorado and California.
And why not? Outside of California, no other state has more Epic Trails. As many as 800 people are expected to attend the summit, resulting in an economic impact of about $500,000. That’s another nice influx of tourism dollars flowing into Arkansas, and I bet many of those visitors will be back.
The summit coming to Arkansas is a direct result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people — so is the Delta Heritage Trail. Arkansas is now a biking state. Add that to our growing list of reasons to love, live in, and visit Arkansas.
Island of Opportunity10/02/2015
I just returned from a trip to Cuba with an Arkansas delegation that included representatives from the agriculture industry, education and small business, as well as government officials.
The main purpose of the trip was to put Arkansas at the front of the line for trade opportunities when those open up.
I was the first governor to visit Cuba since the restoration of diplomatic relations with that island country. It was an amazing experience, and I left optimistic about opportunities for our state to do business in the Cuban market. It’s a market of 11 million people in a country the geographic size of Pennsylvania; they love the products we offer like poultry, rice and pork; and, logistically, we’re close.
As a trading partner, Arkansas makes sense.
But I urge patience. This is a cautious, step-by-step process — and it should be.
One of my takeaways from the trip was seeing evidence of the power of free enterprise. Even in this communist country now 55 years into a U.S. embargo, free enterprise manages to grow when given the slightest chance.
For example, for years barbers in Cuba were public servants. They were employed by the central government. No competition. No incentive to provide a good haircut. Customers understood that to get a decent haircut, they had to pay the barber a little something extra.
Soon enough, government officials learned about these off-the-books transactions. They wanted a cut. Socialism had led to corruption. Eventually, the government found it easier to get out of the barber business. It was a triumph for free enterprise.
A similar thing happened with government-owned versus family-owned restaurants. Competition kicked in quickly, and even the government restaurants raised the quality of their food and service.
But change doesn’t happen overnight. Cuba has been isolated from technology. It needs better banking, technical capability, infrastructure and communications.
Right now, sales to Cuba are cash-based, which is a big problem. U.S. law prohibits extending credit to Cuba’s state-run import agencies, which regularly run low on cash. Arkansas’s senior senator, John Boozman, has taken the lead in Washington to authorize extending credit for agricultural sales, which would be an important first step toward open trade.
Politically, I was disappointed to hear some of the old revolutionary, anti-U.S. rhetoric from Cuban officials. There’s clearly some bitterness about the embargo, which I have supported.
But we must look out the front windshield and not the rearview mirror. We have had an embargo for 55 years. It’s reasonable to try a different approach. Let’s start by extending credit authority to allow businesses to compete, and let’s see how the Cuban government responds.
I hope it responds by lessening centralized control.
I hope it recognizes that expanding trade will mean more opportunity for the people of Cuba.
And, most of all, I hope that translates into more freedom.
One of the great honors for me as Governor is working with our military community. This past Monday, I visited our men and women in uniform at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.
While there, I announced the formation of the Governor’s Military Affairs Steering Committee, a private-public partnership that will be housed within the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Up until now, there has been no statewide initiative or organization to support and promote our military installations. We need one. Because not only are these installations critically important to our nation’s defense, but they are essential to Arkansas’s economic future.
Consider their impact already:
• The Little Rock Air Force Base has a local economic impact of $813 million. It is the fourth-largest employer in the state with more than 8,000 airman and 1,500 civilian employees. The base has created another 3,400 indirect jobs, and some 57,000 retirees in Arkansas use its services.
• Up in my old neck of the woods in Fort Smith, Fort Chaffee is home for the Army’s exportable combat training. Each year, 4,500 soldiers spend three weeks of training there, resulting in an economic benefit of $14 million.
• The arsenal in Pine Bluff is the only remaining active U.S. Army installation in this state. It is an industrial facility that manufactures specialized ammunition. It is critical to our national defense. The economic benefits are impressive: more than 700 employees with an annual payroll of $60 million.
• Back to Fort Smith, the 188th Fighter Wing employs more than 1,000 service members who carry out an incredible ISR mission of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The 188th has an economic impact of $66 million each year.
Add in the Arkansas National Guard, with all its installations and unique capacity, and our military institutions here in Arkansas contribute $1 billion to our state economy. That’s billion with a B.
Members of my committee include business leaders, military leaders, community leaders and public servants, including Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, as well as Mike Preston and Danny Games of the Economic Development Commission. To provide them with the proper resources to get started, I am dedicating $400,000 to their initial effort. In time, I’d like to see this committee accomplish three main tasks:
First, find out what more our communities can do to better support our installations.
Second, provide an up-to-date economic analysis so that we know the exact impact our military installations have on Arkansas.
And, last, work to bring more missions to these installations and to expand existing missions.
As anyone in economic development knows, the first opportunity for growth is within our state and within our existing industries. These military installations are anchors of our community; they are economic drivers as well as enormous points of pride.
Finally, I want to salute all the men and women who work daily to defend our country. That mission is even more critical than your contributions to our economy. We support you. Through this initiative we want to support you even more.
God bless your efforts, and thank you.