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Arkansas Inc. Podcast Highlights Economic Success in The Natural State

 February 23, 2023

Arkansas had a strong year for economic development in 2022, with a range of new projects, initiatives, investments, and expansions announced in the past year.

One of the first economic development projects announced in 2022 was the U.S. Steel’s new steel mill in Osceola – the largest capital investment in Arkansas’ history. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) continued this momentum throughout the year, securing new investments and expansions in communities across the state.

AEDC highlights many of these successes – and the stories behind them – on the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. On the podcast, we talk to company executives, industry leaders, and economic development professionals about the latest news and trends in Arkansas.

Over the course of 10 episodes in 2022, the Arkansas Inc. Podcast hosted a wide range of guests, including a Fortune 1 company representative, a steel executive, a group of economic development professionals, and many more.

In the first podcast of 2022, the International Business Development team members discussed how they market Arkansas to international business executives. Arkansas has a range of advantages, including its regulatory environment, energy cost, and state support, that makes the state attractive to foreign investors.

Dr. Cornelius Schnitzler, Director of AEDC’s Europe Office, said, “Generally speaking, I think executives are really surprised how invested the state is in attracting new businesses to Arkansas. The quality team that Arkansas has in place in Little Rock, across the world, in local communities working with international investors. They're really surprised to learn that the Governor, the Secretary, our Deputy Director travel across the world to Asia, to Europe, drive thousands of miles to these places to actually attract investment and meet the prospects. I think they're also surprised to learn the level of talent that we have in the state, the ability to attract and retain that talent and obviously the southern hospitality - how welcoming communities are to foreign investors, to businesses that want to create jobs and obviously to the people that these businesses send over to work at the locations.”

Arkansas tech pioneer Charles Morgan, the chairman and CEO of First Orion, was the Arkansas Inc. Podcast guest in March 2022. Morgan discussed his career as a tech executive, building Axciom and First Orion into industry-leading companies.

According to Morgan, Arkansas is well-positioned for the tech industry due to its focus on computer science education. This focus on computer science education has enabled First Orion to recruit talented employees right in Arkansas.

“We use Amazon Cloud, we use things that you've never heard of, like Data Bricks for data management…and guess who's doing it? Arkansas people. We train a lot of them with our own apprenticeship program. So, they're born here, they're raised here, they're educated here, and many of them have computer science degrees from college and universities around,” Morgan said.

International trade was the focus of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast in April with World Trade Center Arkansas CEO Denise Thomas as the month’s guest.

During the episode, Thomas discussed World Trade Center Arkansas’ role in promoting trade and export opportunities with Arkansas companies. In addition, she also highlighted her career path and the excellent cultural opportunities that Arkansas has to offer.

“I would like to see Arkansas as the Taj Mahal of the United States, that you come and you see what's going on here. Because when it comes to trade, there's no place that's easier or better to work with. When it comes to foreign direct investment, there's no place that's better. And this is the cream of the crop. We're in the middle of the country. We are the heart and soul of the United States. That's what I'd like to see,” she said.

The Arkansas Inc. Podcast recorded its annual Economic Development Week episode in May with three guests: Allison Thompson, President and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, AR; Buck Layne, President and CEO of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Crystal Johnson, CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The three economic developers highlighted recent successes in their communities, as well as their own paths into the economic development field.

Allison Thompson gave advice to those interested in pursuing a career in economic development. “Economic development's a great career if you like people. It is a relationship business, whether it's the relationships in your community and collaborations and working with others in your community to building relationships and trust with your businesses, with real estate people, with prospects, it's about people and it's about relationships,” Thompson said.

Steel executive David Stickler joined the Arkansas Inc. Podcast in May to talk about the largest capital investment in Arkansas’ history: the new $3 billion U.S. Steel facility in Osceola. Stickler, formerly the CEO of Big River Steel, said Arkansas checked all the boxes for the U.S. Steel project, providing favorable electrical power rates, access to raw materials and end markets, and strong logistics.

Stickler also discussed the evolution of the steel industry, describing Big River Steel as a “technology company that just happened to make steel.

“I don't need someone who has steel-making experience. In fact, sometimes I say I'd really prefer people that don't have steel-making experience. Because if they come from a company that's producing 900 tons of steel per year per worker, it's a much different environment at a company like Big River Steel, and now what will be U.S. Steel's new investment, where you're producing 5,000 tons of steel per year per worker. We emphasize technology, technology, technology. In fact, when we put these Big River Steel together, our goal was to be a technology company that just happened to make steel,” he said.

Walmart Open Call was the focus of the next Arkansas Inc. Podcast episode, and Aimee Fisk, director of Walmart’s U.S. Manufacturing and Sourcing Division, joined the podcast to speak about the event and its impact on American entrepreneurs and manufacturing.

“At Walmart, we believe in making a difference on issues. Our customers and communities care about. We believe we can create more American jobs by supporting more American manufacturing,” said Fisk. “Jump-starting this manufacturing industry and rebuilding the middle class requires a national effort by companies, industry, leaders, lawmakers, and others. Together, we know we can spark a revitalization in us manufacturing by making production more affordable and feasible in the United States. We can bring our customers more products made, grown, or assembled in the US. Here's the best part of all of it, manufacturers can create more jobs in America.”

In September, Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Dr. Corey Wiggins joined the podcast to talk about the DRA’s efforts to bolster economic and workforce development in its region. Dr. Wiggins talked about the DRA’s role and responsibilities in its eight-state region,

“One of the things that I often talk about in our workforce development training, it is not enough for us to say, "Hey, we want to train the workforce," but we can train all the workforce that we want if we're not training people to connect to actual jobs as being created in our communities. So working with our community colleges and working with folks in Arkansas and helping to think about that. One of the things too, is that we have made investments in various communities like in Jonesboro, some of the other Arkansas Delta communities, around basic public infrastructure projects, roads, bridges, work to address issues around flood mitigation.”

In October, Dr. Chris Larsen, executive director of Arkana Laboratories, talked about the company’s recent expansion in Little Rock, which will result in the creation of 74 new jobs in the area. Larsen also discussed the company’s recruitment efforts and how Arkansas’ quality of place has been an attractive draw for new hires.

“We found that if we can get people to Little Rock, if we can get them on the plane and if we can get them here and get them to Arkansas, then we've got a really good chance of actually getting them here,” said Larsen. “So, people come, and I think they're surprised by what they see. Especially if you're from, say, New York or California, the cost of living is a very pleasant surprise. But also the fact that you've got green, you've got nature. You've got some big city type amenities, but you don't have all the headaches of the big city, all the traffic and stuff like that.”

Katherine Andrews, director of the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation, discussed the rise of the outdoor recreation economy in Arkansas and how outdoor recreation impacts the state during the November episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. According to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis figures, outdoor recreation contributes $3.5 billion, or 2.2%, of the states GDP.

“Outdoor recreation does more than bring joy to millions of Arkansans, it helps drive our economy. Outdoor recreation is among our nation's largest economic sectors, and growing the outdoor recreation economy enhances quality of life for Arkansans and positions us to better attract a remote workforce to the state and retain our current workforce,” she said.

For the final podcast of 2022, the Arkansas Inc. Podcast had a special Year in Review episode with the AEDC Project Managers. During the episode, AEDC Project Managers Jarod Wickliffe, Olivia Womack, and Jack Pillow, along with AEDC Deputy Director Clint O’Neal, spoke about the economic development wins of the past year and what’s coming next for The Natural State.

“I think Arkansas is in a great position. You have the best of both worlds. You can have a really great high paying job with a good quality company, and also have that good work-life balance and quality of life,” said Olivia Womack. “And I feel like we throw quality of life around as a term a lot of the time without really saying, "Well, what does that mean?” Because that kind of means different things to different people. But I think it's just the availability and the ease of access to a lot of amenities that people would want. Arkansas, we have wonderful state parks, we have great museums throughout the state.”

Fo hear more about the Arkansas Inc. Podcast's 2022 episodes, listen to the "Greatest Hits of 2022" episode.

Tune into the Arkansas Inc. Podcast in 2023 to hear more about the latest industry and economic development trends in Arkansas. Subscribe to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast to catch each new episode.