Skip Rutherford, dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, was our guest on this week's edition of Talk Business (you can view a video of our interview at the bottom of this post).
Rutherford discussed an op-ed he penned in the latest edition of Talk Business Quarterly on the importance of Arkansas' Delta to the state as a whole.
A few years ago, I was visiting with a former elected official from northwest Arkansas who was bemoaning how Arkansas’ Delta region was a statewide liability. His solution was to “de-annex” it, and he wasn’t kidding.
I reminded him the Delta had largely carried Arkansas economically and politically from 1836 to 1986 and assuming current economic conditions remained the same, we should have the “de-annex” conversation again in 2136 when the two regions of the state would be even.
Reflecting on that discussion, I recalled while growing up in Batesville in the 1950s and 1960s and spending time in the Delta, I never heard anyone advocating the “de-annexation” of northwest Arkansas.
There is no doubt, however, the Delta is now struggling economically, and northwest Arkansas — despite the recent slow down — is
thriving. It’s also increasingly clear that Arkansas’ economic base, which was once concentrated in the Delta, has shifted to central and northwest Arkansas — with northwest Arkansas setting the pace. Though state legislative seats follow population gains and favor northwest Arkansas, the statewide political landscape between the two areas is still competitive.
Rutherford offers a great historical perspective on how the different regions of our state have evolved and how mutual cooperation is a must for advancing the state as a whole.
Read his complete arguments at this link, which include an interesting letter from then-Gov. Orval Faubus to former Rep. Charlotte Schexnayder in 1966.
The 46-year old letter illustrates how dramatically Arkansas' economic landscape has changed in less than half a century.
Faubus tells Schexnayder that he can't release money to the Delta for an economic project because there is more justification to spend state dollars in the mountain areas of the Ozarks that “generally are much poorer than the Delta region” and among “the poorest counties in America.”
Fascinating insight and worth a studied look.