I have talked to hundreds of voters, and the question always arises: why aren’t we creating enough good-paying jobs in Little Rock?
We saw the Amazon distribution center get awarded to North Little Rock. And we all witnessed the explosive job growth in Northwest Arkansas. The jobs picture in Little Rock is grim; a game of “Who is on First?” when figuring out whose responsibility job growth is between the mayor, the Chamber, and various departments scattered across City Hall.
As a local banker, countless small business clients shared their frustration with me in regards to working with City Hall. And as a former economic advisor to Gov. Mike Beebe, I had a front row seat in watching Springdale, Rogers, and Jonesboro become favored destinations for corporate relocations.
We have got to get Little Rock back into the economic conversation and that starts with the right leadership in City Hall.
I am running for mayor in part because I believe the city needs a “Chief Growth Officer” that will lead our economic development strategy. Little Rock needs a mayor that will play a more assertive role in creating a world-class workforce and be the partner that local entrepreneurs desperately need.
I believe that starts with the creation of the Little Rock Economic Development Corporation (LREDC).
Cities across the country – from North Little Rock to New York City – have economic development corporations (EDCs), and we should too.
The LREDC, which I will lead as mayor, will consolidate all of the city’s economic development functions under one roof – from the Small Business Development Office to project-specific efforts to recruit companies to relocate to Little Rock. This entity will be public, transparent, and accountable to Little Rock voters.
Now, the elephant in the room will be the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s role in a potential EDC. But similar to most cities with EDCs, the Chamber will no longer be solely responsible for driving economic development strategy. Rather, the Chamber will serve as a partner along with other key economic stakeholders.
Our port and airport leadership, UA-Little Rock, UAMS, Minority and Women Business Development Organizations, and representatives from the local business and education community should be at the table. And fortunately, the EDC creates a venue for that.
The Chamber will continue to do what it has always done – advocate for our local businesses. The EDC will offer the single, clear voice on jobs – that we desperately need – that is transparent and accountable to you.
As mayor, I also intend to play a more active role as Chairman of the Little Rock Workforce Development Board (LRWDB). We must be more intentional about creating opportunities for our residents that have had a difficult time finding work.
I will work with LRWDB to repurpose community centers in Southwest and East Little Rock, and bring job placement and counseling services to the neighborhoods where unemployment is the highest. I will also hire Little Rock’s first Chief Equity Officer to coordinate job training programs and resources for our youth, formerly incarcerated citizens, and public housing residents to ensure that everyone benefits from the city’s growth.
Finally, as Chief Growth Officer, my job will be to ensure that City Hall gets out of the way of our small businesses.
I will create a “Red Tape Commission” that will identify various sources of red tape that small businesses encounter when starting or running their businesses. The Commission will make a set of recommendations around every touchpoint City Hall has with our small businesses that will cut red tape. The recommendations will then be submitted to the Board of Directors for a vote within the first 100 days of my administration.
I believe that Little Rock has what it takes to create jobs – we simply need the right leadership and the right infrastructure to get the job done. I am running for mayor to fix that.
We cannot afford to do what we have always done and expect different results. I believe that my jobs agenda is responsive to Little Rock’s challenges, and it sets a clear vision on job creation that voters want to see from their next mayor.
Our residents and small businesses deserve a Little Rock that’s open for business and I aim to help provide it.
Editor’s note: Frank Scott, Jr. is a candidate for Little Rock mayor. The opinions expressed are those of the author.