Democratic Senator Mark Pryor held a panel discussion with representatives from Arkansas manufacturing companies on Friday to tout his recent efforts to focus on economic issues by keeping blue collar jobs in the U.S.
The event, held at the Cox Building in downtown Little Rock, brought together manufacturing executives from several fast-growing Arkansas companies who are making efforts to buy and sell American-made goods.
Chris White, plant manager at Remington Outdoor Company in Lonoke, told the small crowd gathered at event that his company continues to rapidly expand in Arkansas and was pleased with its “strong, proud American workforce.”
In August 2013, Remington broke ground on the expansion of its operations at the Lonoke plant that manufactures ammunition products. Work on the $32 million expansion, which included the construction of a new facility, is expected to be completed soon.
White said after the panel discussion that the company currently employs 1,400 people at the Lonoke County plant. Once the expansion is complete, additional employees will be added to the company’s payroll, but White would not disclose the specific number for “competitive reasons.”
“I will say that (Arkansas) has been a great place to do business,” White said.
The other panelist at the event told similar stories. Mel Redman, Chairman and CEO of Rogers-based toy manufacturer Redman & Associates, said his company had more than 1,700 applicants when it recently embarked on creating 17 new jobs at $18.80 per hour.
Because of the quality and commitment of the workers and increased business, Redman said, the Arkansas toymaker has added 30 new jobs instead.
Bryan Smith, purchasing director at Alliance Rubber of Hot Springs, said his company is growing too. The Hot Springs company, which touts itself as the “world’s largest manufacturer of rubber bands,” employs over 150 workers and has plans to add 15 new jobs to its payroll.
“We are proud to say we manufacture every rubber band we make in the U.S.A.,” Smith said.
Despite the roundtable’s patriotic “Made in America” theme, several of the company executives also complained about the federal government’s “regulatory overreach.”
Scott Lancaster, CEO of Bad Boy Mowers in Batesville, said his company has seen profitable growth and the expansion of its workforce despite being handcuffed by government regulations that have led to litigation and fines over “something that was pretty silly.”
“There needs to be a more moderate, common sense approach to regulation,” Lancaster said.
Despite the government’s intrusion, Lancaster said Bad Boy has grown from 14 to 500 employees since 2002, with plans to add 150 employees in the next three years and another 300 workers within six years.
“And we’ve done it by hiring American people and making American products,” he said.
Pryor said that he is using his input in the U.S. Senate to develop a “package of legislation” to bring more good-paying, middle-class jobs to Arkansas families. After the meeting, Pryor would not provide any details concerning his legislative plans.
Pryor and Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton are locked in a tight battle for a U.S. Senate seat in Arkansas that could possibly swing the balance of the nation’s upper chamber. Pryor said one of his key goals is to bring the nation’s focus back to protecting manufacturing jobs and growing the middle class.
“The rich are getting richer, and the poorer are getting poorer,” the senator said. “But we need to (protect) and grow the middle class.”
Other panelists at the Pryor roundtable included Danny Meins, vice president of food and ingredient sales at Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, and Morris Jenkins, director of strategic planning at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.