Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson addressed the onshoring of jobs to the United States and what he said was a burdensome regulatory environment during a speech to the Fort Smith Manufacturing Executives Association.
The event, which was closed to the press by the MEA, was attended by business leaders and manufacturing executives from across the region. Hutchinson, speaking after the event concluded, said his speech focused on Arkansas' opportunities in the manufacturing sector.
"Well, I outlined today the great opportunity Arkansas has to bring manufacturing back to this state and to increase manufacturing in Arkansas. It's returning nationally, and when that happens, Arkansas is in a very good, competitive position to reap the benefits of manufacturing coming back to the United States."
He pointed to the recent efforts of Walmart U.S. to encourage its vendors and suppliers to bring jobs back to the U.S. and said his economic development plan for the state of Arkansas would encourage those efforts in the state.
"And so I talked about that opportunity and of course my economic development plan for the state fits right in with that in terms of having a more competitive tax rate in Arkansas so we can recruit industry into the state, a more favorable regulatory environment so we're not being punitive toward business, ad then thirdly, having an emphasis on job skill education that will give us the skills we need in the manufacturing workplace. So those are some of the points I emphasized today."
On the regulation front, Hutchinson said new Environmental Protection Administration guidelines seeking to reduce coal in power production was misguided and would negatively impact Arkansas on both a national and international level.
"… if we over regulate our industry here and the prices go up and all of a sudden, we're back where we were before (with jobs potentially going overseas). So it is a national issue, but it's a specific Arkansas issue because the most burdensome regulations are directed at coal and Arkansas is more dependent upon coal than some other states."
Hutchinson also took the opportunity to respond to the jobs plan announced last week by his Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, saying the plan looked an awful lot like his own.
"Well, it's interesting that he's got a tax reduction plan, I've got a tax reduction plan. He's got a plan for regulatory relief, I've got a plan for regulatory relief. He's got a plan for job skill training, I've got a plan for job skill training. So there's many of the same themes through there, so the differences are in the objectives and how they're implemented and the specificity of the plans."
According to the former 3rd District congressman, his tax plan is more fair to middle class workers in Arkansas than Ross's plan and would provide more relief, making Arkansas more competitive with surrounding states in terms of recruitment of jobs.
"Well, (Ross) can say what he wants to say (about the fairness of his plan), but there's a difference. I'm explaining the difference. And my income tax relief goes to the middle income. We're starting with the middle income, reducing their rates. So mine is immediate relief to the middle income folks but our object in the end is different, and mine is important if we're going to grow jobs in Arkansas. So there's a difference there and he can defend his, but there's a difference. … I think my plan is more fair and will create jobs."
Part of Ross's plan calls for the elimination of sales tax on replacement parts for manufacturers as a way to encourage re-investment in Arkansas-based facilities. But after speaking to the manufacturing executives in Fort Smith Tuesday, Hutchinson said he didn't agree with that proposal in Ross' jobs plan.
"My view is — and I'm speaking to the manufacturers here — sure, they want something that helps manufacturers, but how about the retail market in Arkansas? And how about the farmers? And how about the tourism industry? How about the small business owner? Under my plan, they all get tax relief. But if you enact simply the relief for the manufacturer's replacement parts, that's not across the board and it's not allowing people to make decisions on how they want to invest their money and how they can grow their business."
As part of his speaking engagement Tuesday, Hutchinson also answered questions from the crowd, which he said again touched on regulations. One of the questions, he said, dealt with increased regulation resulting in higher utility costs for manufacturers and how that impacted companies' bottom lines.
"… there's a challenge with logistics here in Arkansas with less highway infrastructure and fewer intermodal facilities that if we can't have some advantage in the utility side, or incentives from the state government, then we can't expand our businesses here and the expansions might go elsewhere. So that was one of the points that was raised that I learned from and I thought was informative."
Hutchinson said there was a gentleman in the crowd from Richmond, Va., the hometown of outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who recently lost his congressional primary. Asked what could be learned and applied in Arkansas from Cantor's surprise loss, he uttered a phrase repeated many times by politicos.
"Pay attention to your base and all politics is local," he said, adding: "Make sure you understand the frustration with big government and big government solutions."