Gov. Hutchinson Talks Economic Development, Prisons, Foster Children In Jonesboro

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 141 views 

The attempt to bring major industry to a state can often start with a phone call or a knock on a door to show that a state is interested, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told a group of Craighead County attorneys Thursday.

Hutchinson spoke to the Craighead County Bar Association at the Cooper Alumni Center on the Arkansas State University campus in Jonesboro, about 90 minutes after he held a press conference in Little Rock on a report dealing with the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

The report, conducted independently, came up with about a dozen recommendations involving improving service for the state agency that deals with adoptions and foster care among other issues.

Hutchinson discussed the report as well as spoke about the state’s economy, saying many of the issues are interconnected.

On the economy, Hutchinson said a series of proposals brought forward by his administration can provide the opportunity for economic growth in the state.

The governor cited a $100 million tax cut, geared at people making between $20,000 and $75,000 a year; revamping the state’s workforce training and education programs; a computer coding initiative; and implementing reasonable regulations as ways to improve the economy.

Hutchinson, who traveled earlier this year to France and Germany for trade shows with state business leaders, said he learned several key things as part of the trip.

First, he said governors have to be engaged in the process.

There were nine governors who attended an air show in France, while the state of Alabama rented the Eiffel Tower in Paris for a meeting with aerospace companies, Hutchinson said.

The second issue involves trade and tariffs, while companies also look at the importance of having supply chain drivers available.

Hutchinson said the lack of a tariff agreement between the United States and Europe could have a negative impact on European companies wanting to locate in the United States.

On the supply side, Hutchinson said companies often look at a way to build their supply chain. For example, Arkansas has nearly $1.6 billion in aerospace exports each year with companies constantly looking.

Another part of the puzzle, Hutchinson said, involves his computer coding initiative.

The program, which takes effect this school year, will teach computer coding in school districts around the state. Hutchinson said the industry has many unfilled jobs, with Walmart looking for 800 computer coders to fill a definitive need.

Locally, Hutchinson said officials in Northeast Arkansas, including Jonesboro and Craighead County, have been ahead of the curve on building for the future.

Hutchinson also spoke about the DCFS report and a re-entry program for prisons.

On the prison program, Hutchinson said state officials and judges “have a tough job” in dealing with the issue.

Hutchinson said his administration appropriated $13 million in the last legislative session to help with re-entry, parole and alternative sentencing programs around the state.

The DCFS report provided key information as well.

The author of the report, Paul Vincent, interviewed at least 200 people in completing the report, Hutchinson said, noting the report found good as well as bad.

Among the good found in the report was a 90% reduction in the use of psychotic drugs for children. Among the bad included a 29:1 caseload ratio between case workers and children as well as a lack of foster parents in the state.

There are also at least 4,000 children in need of foster care at any given time, with only about 2,800 places for the children to stay, Hutchinson said.

There have been 22 children in the past four months who have not had a place to stay, with the children often having to stay in local DHS offices overnight, Hutchinson said.

“That is completely unacceptable,” Hutchinson said.