In an Arkansas National Guard hanger filled with military personnel and a phalanx of government and legislative officials at North Little Rock’s Camp Robinson, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday unveiled a public-private partnership aimed at supporting and boosting the economic fortunes of the state’s military installations.
The new statewide initiative, according to Hutchinson, will promote Arkansas at the state and national level in a way that will add short- and long-term economic value for the state’s varied military interests.
“Obviously, as governor, it is significant that our military installations altogether contribute over $1 billion (annually) to our state economy,” the governor told the crowd of mostly field-dressed military personnel. “But just as significantly, or more significantly, is the fact that our military installations are critical to our national defense.”
Hutchinson explained in his brief speech that he has personally learned of the economic impact and importance of Arkansas’ military by making visits to bases and installations across the state. He specifically mentioned Camp Robinson, the Little Rock Air Force Base, the 188th Air Force Fighter Wing and Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith, the Pine Bluff Arsenal and the state’s various National Guard offices as having a broad effect on economic activity in every corner of the state.
“All these military installations that I have cited are important to our economic future in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “I recognize … that we need to broadcast that message more.”
To get it started, Hutchinson has designated $400,000 in up-front funding from his discretionary account to establish the committee and commission an economic impact study.
Brad Hegeman, president of Nabholz Construction Services, will preside over the committee. The construction executive has served with the Arkansas National Guard Association and the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council.
The new committee will be housed in the state Economic Development Commission and will begin meeting immediately to come with recommendations on how the state can enhance the economic activity at the state’s military installations. It will also pursue new opportunities for future defense-related economic development projects.
AEDC Director Mike Preston and Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, also shared the flag-draped podium with Gov. Hutchinson and talked about the need for the state to retain and keep military related jobs in Arkansas as Congress and federal officials seek cuts in the national defense budget.
“We see our (military installation) as economic drivers,” said Preston. “Our job is not to only support this committee, but to also be more proactive when it comes to business recruitment involving military installations.”
Hill applauded the governor and his economic development chief for taking the lead on the new initiative, saying it will serve as a guide for future strategic planning for the state’s military installations.
“This is what taxpayers and our men and women in uniform want – which is outstanding planning and getting out in front of where the world is going to take us,” said the Republican congressman. “(There) has been an unprecedented assault on the size, force projections and strength and capabilities of our military. And those assaults are not from overseas, but in budget fights in Washington, D.C.”
Hutchinson said he has charged the steering committee to come up with recommendations on how the state can expand public and privately support of Arkansas’ military personnel and installations, conduct an up-to-date economic analysis of the military’s impact on the state’s economy, and expand the missions of the state’s military.
Besides, Hegeman, Preston will serve on the steering committee along with AEDC Deputy Director Danny Games. AEDC also has appointed a senior manager, Becky Rheinhardt, to support military installations as one of the state’s targeted industry sectors.
Other members of the steering committee are:
· Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin
· Maj. Gen. (Ret) William Wofford – Adjutant General’s representative for the AR National Guard
· Larry Wilson – LRAFB Community Council
· Lou Ann Nisbett – Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County
· Tim Allen – President and CEO, Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce
· Jan Gattis Burd – VP of Commercial Lending, First National Bank of Fort Smith
· Ken Griffin – Military/Veterans Affairs Liaison for Gov. Asa Hutchinson