Randy Zook, CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, says workforce and regulatory issues remain the top concerns of business leaders and he sees several topics on the horizon that could impact Arkansas’ business climate.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Zook said despite regulatory hurdles, state and national businesses continue to prove their resilience but could do more.
“The fact is we still have our foot on the brake at the national level, just incredible regulatory burdens that keep rolling out of Washington,” he said. “There’s just a lot of headwinds, but at the end of the day, the U.S. economy is incredibly strong and we are seeing great progress on lots of fronts.”
With Gov. Asa Hutchinson declaring his intent to push forward with more tax cuts in 2017, Zook said the chamber has had “general” conversations about the scope and targets of tax reform. He hopes the governor will look to corporate tax relief and targeted business tax cuts as well as individual tax reform.
“Our position is to try to focus attention on some of the business taxes, especially those that keep us out of step with surrounding states, primarily with our tax structure,” Zook said. “I hope some attention will be paid to the corporate income tax as well as the individual income tax. We have a relatively high corporate income tax rate just as we do individual income taxes.”
Workforce remains a top priority for the State Chamber as is evidenced by its new “Be Pro Be Proud” initiative. The mobile workforce education vehicle aims to influence high school-age students on the job possibilities that exist with and without traditional four-year college degrees.
Despite low unemployment, Zook said there are still plenty of job opportunities for young people due to an aging workforce. He worries, however, that potential medical marijuana proposals could make it more difficult for job seekers looking to tap into those skills-based trade jobs.
“We are definitely concerned about it and want to raise a cautionary flag [that] this may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The experience in Colorado confirms that,” he said.
Zook said Colorado’s medical marijuana experience has generated an “enormous range” of questions. “Everything from: do drug tests still apply for pre-employment physicals? Can medical marijuana cards trump the ability of an employer to test for drug use?”
While two medical marijuana initiatives are in the process of collecting signatures to attempt to qualify for the November ballot, they have not been assured placement before voters.
“We’ll take some appropriate steps at the right time once we know what the lay of the land looks like,” Zook said.
Watch his full interview in the video below.