Friday, January 29, 2016

TOP STORY >> Governor touts growth

Leader staff writer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke about jobs, lower taxes, highway funding and expanding Little Rock Air Force Base as the guest speaker at the Cabot Chamber of Commerce’s 55th annual membership banquet held Tuesday at the Freshman Academy.

Hutchinson said the state’s employment rate has dropped from 5 percent to 4.8 percent. He said that means 38,000 jobs have been added since he took office in January 2015.

Hutchinson said, when jobs are created and there are opportunities and growth potential, it attracts people to move from out of state or other communities.

He said he went to New York City to speak with site-selection consultants for economic development. He told them Arkansas was the right place to be, geographically, logistically and for its workforce.

The governor went to Las Vegas for a shooting industry trade show, where manufacturers showcase products and new technologies.

Hutchinson said he was the first governor from Arkansas to attend the shooting show. The only other governor was from Nevada, according to Hutchinson.

“I was there knocking on doors and made the announcement that Remington Arms is expanding employment and investment in Lonoke. They came to me and said they had options to go to different places, but no one beat Arkansas in terms of workforce and state support,” Hutchinson said.

Last week it was announced that SIG Sauer Arms of New Hampshire is opening a premium ammunition plant in Jacksonville. SIG Sauer plans to have more than 75 jobs.

“I have full confidence that folks from Cabot will be employed in all those arenas,” the governor said.

Hutchinson said the CEOs of the companies told him they do not get any attention in the Northeast and to see a governor solicit them to come to Arkansas meant a lot to them.

“SIG Sauer Arms has a commitment here, and it will be exciting to see where that goes,” Hutchinson said.

He also spoke about going to the Paris Air Show. He said Arkansas’ leading export is aero defense at $1.6 billion. Camden has defense contractors General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“There are folks who live in Cabot that work at Dassault Falcon Jet in Little Rock.

“Dassault Falcon Jet has more than 2,000 employees. We are encouraging continued investment here in Arkansas. If you buy a Falcon jet anywhere in the world, you have to fly into Little Rock to pick it up. What a great promotion,” Hutchinson said.

The governor also went to a steel show in Germany.

“Soon Arkansas will have the leading steel producing county in the nation with Mississippi County with Nucor-Yamato Steel and Big River Steel. They will be employing hundreds of workers,” Hutchinson said.

“It will put Arkansas in a better position down the road to bring in the supply chain that depends on steel production,” he said.

Hutchinson went to Cuba to promote and sell Arkansas poultry and rice to the country.

“When I came back, they made an order for 450,000 tons of Arkansas poultry. It does make a difference when you go there,” Hutchinson said.

He said, “We need to open up that market for our Arkansas agriculture products. Congress needs to be able to allow businesses to make the judgement to extend credit. Right now, we have to sell to Cuba based on cash transactions. We are competing with Brazil and Thailand that can sell to them on credit,” Hutchinson explained.

“I hope this shows why it is important for the governor to promote this state. You can get the audience that is needed and open doors, and it makes a difference in this global commerce,” the governor noted.


The legislature and the governor lowered the income tax rate in the state, a $100 million income tax reduction.

“I believe this is important because we need to grow the small businesses in Cabot,” Hutchinson said.

He said, if you put $500 more a year into the consumer’s pocket by taking less from the payroll deductions because the income tax has been reduced, that person has more money to spend in local stores.

“It is going to grow our economy. I believe it is very important in Arkansas that we grow the private sector faster than the government sector of the economy,” Hutchinson said.


Hutchinson spoke on putting up $400,000 to start a support initiative for the five military bases in Arkansas.

“You support it. Jacksonville and Lonoke County support Little Rock Air Force Base. I wanted to make sure we did, as a state, all that we could to make sure they have the support they need. We can make the case that there needs to be expansion at Little Rock Air Force Base. It ought to be stronger, have more missions and protect those missions in the future,” Hutchinson said.

“As defense cuts come, they are going to continue to look at savings. We want to put ourselves in the strongest position. When you do that, you are supporting military personnel and military retirees that mean so much to this state,” the governor added.


TV weatherman Pat Walker of Cabot, the banquet’s emcee, asked the governor if he had noticed the traffic along Hwy. 89 on his way to the chamber dinner. Walker said it seems like Cabot has a parade three times a day.

Hutchinson said the best way to have money for roads is to have a $750 million highway plan over 10 years with state money that will allow Arkansas to capitalize on $2 billion of federal money that is available.

“We have a declining revenue source for our highway department, and we have greater needs because of growth, and we have to be able to get federal matching money,” Hutchinson said.

“I propose we use excess surplus we have after all our needs in education and other services are met. This year, we are going to apply $40 million in surplus and $6 million in general revenue to match. There are no new taxes that I have proposed to Arkansans,” Hutchinson continued.

He said a specialized fuel tax could help accelerate highway funding, but that he is against the idea.

“As our economy is recovering, workers in Arkansas are having the benefit of lower gas prices. Let’s not take that rug out from under them and increase the gas taxes again. Let them enjoy that extra spending money and help their families.

“We can take care of the needs in a shift of general revenues and the surplus generated,” Hutchinson said.


Hutchinson then spoke about his health-care program called “Arkansas Works.”

A special legislative session will be held to address the program. He said it is designed for working people trying to move up the economic ladder and that the state can afford it.

Hutchinson said the private option Medicaid expansion added 200,000 people. He said there are gaps in it. Hutchinson said he wants to move it into the future with more work requirements in place.

“If you are going to be in the Medicaid population, you need to be referred for worker training and prepared to get a job. You are going to have to take personal responsibility. If you are making over 100 percent of the federal poverty level, you ought to contribute a couple percent of income to a premium cost, just like somebody else working on the same plan. If there is employer insurance that is available, you ought to take advantage of that versus government insurance.”

Hutchinson said it is the right program for the state’s budget.

The event also included the chamber’s annual change of leadership.

Outgoing president David Butler spoke on how the chamber impacts Cabot.

“The chamber is a networking group through ribbon cuttings, chamber after hours events and local lunches. The chamber helps educate through seminars and scholarships. It has community involvement with dinners for deployed spouses and Cabot Fest,” Butler said.

Incoming president Stacy O’Gary said, when she was selected for the position, she was grateful to be able to give back to the community.

“A trip to Walmart can take close to two hours because we can find five to 10 people we need to visit with. This is what I cherish about our community,” O’Gary said.

She said the city has grown but still has small-town values.

“In the upcoming year, I would like us to come together and support our local businesses. Let us be the glue that helps our city stand out and exceed our own expectations,” O’Gary said.