Tuesday, June 06, 2006

 

Diversify Arkansas

For what does a college graduate have to look forward upon graduation? For years, Arkansas has ranked at or near the bottom in per capita residents with a Bachelor's Degree. Why is that, when rankings show Arkansas solidly in the middle of the pack in producing college grads?

Jobs in Arkansas pay very little in comparison to surrounding states for identical jobs. Couple that with the fact that, other than a handful of specialized jobs, most jobs in Arkansas are in the agriculture, service, or industrial sectors. There is animous towards those jobs, but they do not pay what a college grad can require in other states.

What Arkansas needs to look into is diversifying the job base. Rather than bringing just manufacturing jobs to Arkansas, let's look at bringing technology jobs, refinery jobs, and a variety of other types of jobs into the state. To do this, we need to seriously look at the tax structure. Higher paying jobs will not move to this state with rates as high as they are, therefore the rates must be cut at the state and local levels.

To often our leaders have tried to raise taxes to pay for projects, when long term planning and growing the local economies would pay for most, if not all, of the projects. For instance, Fort Smith needs a new municipal building and they want to build a riverfront ballpark. Both items would be great for the growth of Fort Smith. However, the voters said no on raising taxes to pay for those two items. If city administrators had planned in advance for these structures, without relying on tax increases, the growth rate of the Fort Smith area could have been much greater, thereby widening the tax base and reducing the need for higher taxes.

Simply by looking north, to the Fayettevile/Springdale/Bentonville area, leaders can see the growth rate of that area and compare it to their own growth rate. Why does Northwest Arkansas grow so rapidly in comparison to Fort Smith? Leadership that looks to diversify the economy and keep tax rates as low as possible. The entire state can and should learn from this example.

There is no reason why Arkansas should not land such companies as Nortel, Dell, or Hundai. With the two proposed interstate highways going through Arkansas, warehouses will supply more jobs. Build container ports along the Arkansas River and a variety of jobs will come along. Bring companies such as Exxon/Mobil, Shell, or BP into regions that are close to highway access and whole new communities will arise around them. These companies employ large numbers of people and create wider tax bases for the state and communities.

Forward think can bring this growth about. Leaders that want to maintain control of their own little fiefdoms will continually work against such growth. The people of Arkansas need to wake up and pay attention to who is trying to maintain control and who is looking to expand Arkansas' opportunities. The coming election will provide that opportunity for growth.

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