Tuesday, March 07, 2017

TOP STORY >> Governor tells chamber he’s upbeat on jobs

By RICK KRON Leader staff writer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the keynote speaker at the annual Sherwood chamber dinner Monday night, espoused the power of local leaders.

“Sen. Jane English (who represents Sherwood) came to me earlier today with a bill and said that it was good for Sherwood and to sign it. So, I did,” the governor said.

If voters approve, establishments in Sherwood and Jacksonville will be able to serve alcohol by the drink without having to go through the year-long process of forming a private club charter.

The crux behind that bill is economic growth and that was the foundation of the governor’s speech Monday.

Hutchinson said he made campaign promises to bring jobs to Arkansas. “So how’s that working out, you ask? To date we’ve brought in 55,000 new jobs, and reduced unemployment to 3.9 percent … as close to a record as possible. For 16 months in a row now we’ve been under the national average.”

He added that as more people have entered the workforce or moved up to better jobs, the number of Arkansas receiving SNAP benefits has dropped by 50,000.

He credited state legislators who help create a good climate for growth that allows entrepreneurs to take a risk.

The governor told the record chamber crowd of 300 at Sherwood Forest that Arkansas is in the global marketplace and “that’s why I’ve taken trips to Cuba, Europe and China. Why Cuba? To open markets for our rice and poultry. In Europe, I attended the steel show in Germany and the air show in Paris to push Arkansas.”

The governor said he made a promise to call six different CEO’s on his first day in office and tell them why they should be doing business in Arkansas. “Talk about cold sales calls. One of the company CEOs I called only spoke Japanese. That call didn’t go so well.”

But he said one of his six calls was to SIG Sauer. “A New Hampshire firearms company. I told them they needed to get out of the cold and come to a very friendly Second Amendment state. A year later the announcement was made that SIG Sauer was going to open a plant in Jacksonville.

“It is better for the economy to grow our private sector more than the government sector. It puts more money into people’s pockets,” the governor explained.

He said his administration had lowered taxes by $150 million so far, “but we’ve got to do more.”

The governor said he even had a chance last week to discuss his global economy philosophy with President Trump at the White House.

“I was seated about six feet away from him and told him to be careful with tariffs or restrictions that would hurt Arkansas. Then I had a chance to brag about our different industries,” the governor said.

Trump’s reply?

“He told me, ‘Asa, don’t worry about it. I’ve got this covered I’m a negotiator.’ I loved his confidence and enthusiasm, but Mr. President, I will continue to worry about it.”

Hutchinson took time to praise the veterans and the air base.

“You have always supported Little Rock Air Force Base, but there was nothing statewide. In September 2015, I formed the Governor’s Military Affairs Committee and put in $400,000 for an economic study to make sure we knew the commitment and impact of our military installations,” he said.

“A strong Little Rock Air Force Base is good for the nation, for the state and for the local area, including Sherwood,” Hutchinson said.

The governor said with a booming steel industry in Mississippi County, the state is now one of the top steel producers in the country.

At the Paris Air Show, he pushed the state burgeoning aero-defense industry, including Falcon Jet and Sherwood’s GSI, a producer of cabinets for Falcon Jet.

In his two China visits, he was able to convince a garment company to return to Arkansas. “That’s 400 new jobs for us,” the governor said.

Other programs initiated during the governor’s term which he believes will be a boost to the economy is the tax exemption for military retirees.

“It’s good for the economy. Many of the retirees we are losing will come back, get jobs or start businesses, support schools and help communities grow,” Hutchinson said.

He said he was proud of the AR Grant program, which will cover tuition, fees and other student expense for young people wanting to go to a two-year institution and focus in an area of high needs such as welding.

“The schools provide mentors to help the students and when he or she graduates they promise to work here in Arkansas for at least three years. It’s a good program,” he said.

He took time to praise Sherwood as a wonderful community, a wonderful place to live with great leadership and a great chamber.