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Arkansas Inc. Podcast: Greatest Hits of 2022

 January 31, 2023

In this episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, we look back on some of the best moments from 2022. AEDC Marketing Director Clark Cogbill narrates some of the most memorable moments from the podcast, including comments from Arkansas executives, local economic development professionals, and AEDC staff members.


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Clark Cogbill              

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc Podcast. I'm Clark Cogbill, Director of Marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. In 2022, we hosted guests from a wide variety of backgrounds and organizations on this podcast, including executives in the technology, steel, retail, and medical industries whose companies range from startups, to the top of the Fortune 500. We spoke with economic development leaders and the top officials from the Delta Regional Authority and World Trade Center, Arkansas. A few of my coworkers at AEDC also joined us as guests. We have some intriguing conversations that we're lining up for 2023, but before we bring them on, we wanted to recap some of the highlights from our interviews in 2022. So today's episode is kind of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast 2022 Greatest Hits Edition. So let's jump right in. In the first podcast of 2022, our guests were the AEDC International Business Development Team. They discussed how they market Arkansas to business executives in Asia, Europe, and other locations around the world. I asked Dr. Cornelius Schnitzler, Director of AEDC's Europe office, what he hears from business executives in Europe about Arkansas.

Dr Cornelius Schnitzler

Generally speaking, I think executives are really surprised to learn 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 and the secretary, our deputy director, travel across the world to Asia, to Europe. Drive thousands of miles in these places to actually attract investment and meet with prospects. I think they're also surprised to learn the level of talent that we have in the state. The ability attract and retain that talent and obviously the southern hospitality. How welcoming communities are to foreign investors, to businesses that want to create job, and obviously to the people that these businesses sent over to work at the locations.

Clark Cogbill    

In March, our guest was Arkansas Tech pioneer, Charles Morgan. The Chairman and CEO of First Orion based in Little Rock. Charles discussed his career as a tech executive and how he built Axiom and First Orion into industry leading companies. He talked about why Arkansas is a good state for building and running a tech company.

Charles Morgan

You know, I continue to be amazed at... This branded communication technology we're building is some of the most, absolutely in a very raw sense, it's the most exciting thing that I've ever done in my career. And I thought, I did a lot of that at Axiom, but I'm still involved in the technology and the development. And we undertook, actually really now it's about five, six years ago, to start building this current generation of branded communication. And in the last year we have really seen that explode. And the people that are doing that are, every single damn one of them, are from Arkansas. And they are building some of the most extraordinary technologies using the most advanced tools in computing today.

You know, we use Amazon Cloud, we use things that you've never heard of, like Databricks for data management. And all of the data management and creation of all of the online portals and database management tools we use are real cool. And guess who's doing it? Arkansas people. And 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, universities around. Not all of them have computer science degrees. But then we put them through 12 to 14 week apprenticeship programs, which has become the model for what Arkansas Center for Data Science is doing.

Clark Cogbill            

We recorded our interview with Charles Morgan soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. AEDC's Clint O'Neal asks Charles about First Orion's employees working in the Ukraine.

Clint O'Neal                

We're recording this podcast on March 1st. So much has happened over the last week in Ukraine. Charles, I know that First Orion has employees in Ukraine. Can you give us a little bit from your perspective on business as well as what's going on with the Russian invasion?

Charles Morgan             

Well, the first thing I thought about when I heard about it was, we have an employee who was born and raised in Ukraine, came to UCA to go to school, and he is one of our technology leaders. And his whole family is in Ukraine and partially as result of that, we have built a technology center in Ukraine that does application testing. We have 14 employees over there and my first thought was, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I hope they're going to be all right." And some of them lived in western Ukraine. A few of them lived in Kyiv. The ones that lived in Kyiv have gotten out and one of them is a male, and hadn't been able to leave the country, but he's taken his family to the border. Our head of technical lead, Anastasia has gone to the Polish border now, has gotten into Poland and is safely into Poland.

But the thing that is stunning to me is the days after the invasion, they were very concerned that they would not be able to get all their work done. They got all their work done overnight. I couldn't work, and there they are working. I talked to Anastasia. She had been awake for five straight days, four or five days...

Clint O'Neal               


Charles Morgan            

And she was literally delirious. But she said, "Don't worry, we'll be up and set up by next week so we can get our work done." Of course, she didn't, I don't think quite make that. But they're worried about keeping their jobs and continuing to do a good job for their... Because they've developed relationships, see, with the people back in Arkansas. I've never seen the spirit of people like that, that are determined not to be overcome by Russian aggression.

Clark Cogbill            

International trade was the focus of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast in April with World Trade Center Arkansas's CEO, Denise Thomas as our guest. Denise discussed World Trade Center Arkansas's role in promoting trade and export opportunities with Arkansas companies. I ask her about her vision for the organization over the next five years.

Denise Thomas         

I would like to see more global leaders come to the state as a destination and from their visits, I would like to see more foreign direct investment. I would like to see an increase in trade opportunities with those countries from those diplomatic visits. And I'd like to see Arkansas become a state of destination for tourism, where people come here to see the wonder and the magic. And the way that we're going to go about doing that is, literally telling the story a lot louder and being a lot bolder about saying, "This is who we are." And allowing that story to be heard in such a way that it's new, it's different, it's exciting. And I think that Arkansas definitely has the voice and the bandwidth to do it.

I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and someone asked me the same question, so I'm going to give you the response that I gave them. 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.

Clark Cogbill             

The Arkansas Inc. Podcast recorded its annual Economic Development Week episode in May, with three economic development leaders from around the state. Including Allison Thompson, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County; Buck Layne, President and CEO of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Crystal Johnson, CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce. They 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.

Allison Thompson        

Economic development's a great career if you like people. It is a relationship business, whether it's the relationships in your community, in 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.

Clark Cogbill                  

In the same episode, Clint O'Neal asked Buck Layne what the top factors are that businesses look for when they evaluate communities.

Buck Layne        

Well, I think the top two is what I refer to as "product". That's either a building or an available site. I think if you don't have those, you're behind the eight ball right out of the box. Once you get past those, it's a matter of, a number of things. I think workforce is the number one issue facing all businesses today. We work very closely with our local Arkansas State University Beebe/Searcy campus. And have a committee that's set up to do that sort of thing, and they meet on a regular basis. But then you get into things like quality of life and that means something different to everybody when you mention that to them. But we've got a group of people that are working very hard on that in our community to improve that sort of thing. To come up with things that people would like to do, and people like to come to our community to see.

Clark Cogbill                 

Steel executive David Stickler joined the Arkansas Inc Podcast in May to talk about the largest capital investment in Arkansas's history. The new $3 billion US Steel facility in Osceola. Stickler, formerly the CEO of Big River Steel said Arkansas checked all the boxes for the US Steel project providing favorable electrical power rates, access to raw materials and in markets and strong logistics. Stickler was asked to share his perspective on finding quality hardworking talent in Arkansas.

David Stickler         

I tell you it's that work ethic, is second to none. We work 12-hour shifts, so you're on 12 hours, you're off 12 hours. So one week you work four days and then you have three days off. The next week you work three days and you have four days off. And because we work 12-hour shifts, people are willing to travel a little bit further. All right. If you're going to drive an hour, an hour and 15 minutes from one of these communities that might not be right on top of where we put the mill, you're going to stay at work. And then you're going to enjoy the three or four-day weekend with your family. So I think the combination of the 12-hour shifts, I think the combination of the production bonus, and then just that rural work ethic has proven to be a winning, winning formula.

In Arkansas, we've put now almost $6 billion of investment in Arkansas. Between the original Big River Steel, some of the expansions we did at Big River Steel and now the $3 billion of investment at the US Steel Project. And then the Workforce Training Program, that I know that the Arkansas Economic Development groups, the regional economic development groups, the governor's office are hugely, hugely supportive of. Those have really proven to be a real, real strong point for us being able to set these production and quality records. 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've 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 US 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. So it's a great thing. We find these young professionals that have grown up working on their computers, working on their iPads, working on their cell phones, they're computer literate. And instead of, when I first started this way back when, when I was on Wall Street, steel making was 80% brawn and 20% brains. Today at Big River Steel and at the new US Steel investment that we're making, it's 90% brains, 10% brawn.

Clark Cogbill                 

In August, we were joined by Aimee Fisk, Director of Walmart's US Manufacturing and Sourcing Division. She led Walmart's Open Call event in June, which involved more than 1,100 businesses from across the country pitching their products made grown or assembled in the US to Walmart and Sam's Club merchants. I ask Aimee why Walmart is committed to boosting manufacturing in the United States.

Aimee Fisk             

Yeah. And Clark, I'm going to get a little emotional on you. This is one of the biggest reasons that I came to the US Manufacturing and Sourcing Organization. Because we have a long proud history of supporting products made, grown or assembled in the US. And this dates back to Sam Walton. Under his leadership Walmart started, and hopefully you've heard of it, but Walmart started Bring It Home to the USA program. And to quote Mr. Sam, our primary goal became to work with American manufacturers and see if our formidable buying power could help them deliver the goods and in the process, save some American manufacturing jobs. And guess what? It worked. The investment we're making now just continues to build on Mr. Sam's vision.

And I have to say, sourcing locally is good for our business. It's good for our business in all retail markets. When we source domestically, we have not only shorter lead times and deliver fresher products to our customers, but local suppliers know the customer preferences. It just makes sense for our customers, it makes sense for our communities and it makes sense for our company. US manufacturing really matters. It matters to the suppliers, it matters to entrepreneurs and to the environment. And most importantly, it matters to our customers. More than 85% of which have actually said it's important to carry products made... Excuse me, made or assembled in the US. And most of all, because of the jobs it brings. And it matters to those American communities and the people that live in them.

Clark Cogbill              

Our next guest was Delta Regional Authority federal co-chairman, Dr. Corey Wiggins, who joined the podcast to talk about the DRA's efforts to bolster economic and workforce development in its region.

Dr Corey Wiggins   

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. Like all these pieces ultimately for us, is the things that I'm excited about. Are the type of projects we're excited about. And one of the things I'm excited about, Clint, is our ability to do more. And I know we got a lot of things in front of us and a lot of opportunities in front of us to even do more. It can make even bigger and deeper investments across the Arkansas region and the DRA region here.

Clark Cogbill              

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. Dr. Larsen also discussed the company's recruitment efforts and how Arkansas's quality of place has been an attractive draw for new hires.

Dr Chris Larsen               

We have somebody on staff that actually recruits positions. We recruit from all across the United States and try to get people here to check us out. At first, it can be a bit of a barrier. When we tell them we are in Arkansas. A lot of people on the Coast, believe it or not, if you tell them you're located in Arkansas, they lose interest. But 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 Arkana, then we've got a really good chance of actually getting them here. So people come and I think they're surprised by what they see. And 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 kind of some big city type amenities, but you don't have all the headaches of the big city, all the traffic and stuff like that. So yeah, we do pretty well with recruiting, if we can get people on the plane.

Clark Cogbill              

Katherine Andrews, director of the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation joined our podcast in November. She discussed the rise of the outdoor recreation economy in Arkansas and how outdoor recreation impacts the state. I ask her, what is unique about Arkansas's approach to outdoor recreation?

Katherine Andrews       

Arkansas is unique in many ways. Although we are a relatively small state in size and population, we've gained attention on a global stage for our abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. The geography of the state lends itself to a diverse offering of activities. Arkansas has over a 100,000 miles of streams and rivers, 600,000 acres of lakes, five world class epic rides, mountain bike trails, thousands of miles of hiking trails, millions of acres of public land. America's first National River, the Buffalo National River, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians. The big game hunting that I mentioned earlier. World record trout and on and on. In Arkansas, you can mountain bike through the Ozark Mountains. Gravel grind in the Delta. Whitewater kayak or paddle through the Bayous. Bird watch in the famous Mississippi Flyway. Rock climb the Bluffs. Camp and hike in our state parks and enjoy a multitude of pristine natural areas, WMAs and federal lands.

And it's the diversity of the terrain and the geography, like I mentioned, that makes Arkansas stand out in comparison to other states. We have made tens of millions of dollars in investment in our outdoor recreation infrastructure. We have the best state parks in the US, one of the few states where admittance to a State park is free, thanks to our amendment 75. I mentioned the record visitation to our state parks and our national park system. So there are tons of ways to get outside and enjoy nature in Arkansas.

Clark Cogbill                 

For the final episode of 2022, the Arkansas Inc Podcast had a special year-end review episode with the AEDC Business Development Team. During the episode, AEDC project managers, Jarod Wickliffe, Olivia Womack, and Jack Pillow, along with AEDC's, Clint O'Neal, spoke about the economic development wins of the past year and what's coming next for the natural state. Olivia talked about Arkansas as a great place to live and work.

Olivia Womack        

I think Arkansas is in a great position. You kind of 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. 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. We have a lot of communities that are doing work to revitalize their downtown, to add bike trails, just to name a few. And I hate to name communities because that leaves some out, but every community's doing great work.

Clark Cogbill                

Jack Pillow was asked what he's most excited about for Arkansas and AEDC and 2023. And this is what he had to say.

Jack Pillow                  

I think in general, just professionally, I'm looking forward to our team, seeing what we can do. Because for me, I didn't necessarily start a lot of these projects. Some of them ended up finishing, but I'm excited for opportunities to work with new companies and see it all the way through. I think Arkansas is in a great place for success. We're extremely busy. I feel like we say that a lot anytime we're in public, so that's never a bad thing either. But just excited to keep going.

Clark Cogbill                   

Jarod Wickliffe talked about making the transition from recruiting in higher education to recruiting business at AEDC.

Jarod Wickliffe               

For me, learning that we can be able to work with prospective companies, existing industry to be able to create opportunities for higher-paying jobs, to increase the quality of life. That same sense of purpose that I had recruiting high school students has kind of transferred over and maybe a family that we may have not had an opportunity to ever meet, but to have an impact and create a higher-paying job for to increase quality of life piece. That's something that's really rewarding and may not necessarily be in all the press releases or jobs announcements. But something that really provides me a sense of purpose moving forward.

Clark Cogbill             

In that same episode, AEDC's Clint O'Neal, who was recently named Executive Director of AEDC, congratulations Clint, summed up the mission of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Clint O'Neal                    

At AEDC, we try to stay on the mission. And our mission is to raise the per capita income of Arkansans. To provide better opportunity for Arkansans for more and better jobs. And the way that we do that is we win projects. We partner with communities, we give communities the opportunity to compete for projects, and we provide the best support we can at the state level to help communities close deals. At the end of the day, all economic development projects are local, and they are won or lost at the local level. And when we win projects in partnership with our local communities, they create great jobs for communities.

Clark Cogbill                   

Well, I hope you've enjoyed listening to some of the highlights of our interviews on the Arkansas Inc Podcast from 2022. We had a lot of great guests, and a special thanks to all those who could join us on the podcast. Be sure to tune in to the Arkansas Inc Podcast in 2023. We're working on lining up some really interesting and insightful interviews that you don't want to miss.

You've been listening to the Arkansas Inc Podcast. This is Clark Cogbill, Director of Marketing at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. You can subscribe to the Arkansas Inc Podcast on most podcast apps like Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and others. And for more information about AEDC and to sign up for our monthly newsletter, visit our website, Arkansasedc.com. And connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Thanks for listening.