Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beebe's economic plan broad but simple

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Long-term economic plan released by governor

By Rob Moritz
LITTLE ROCK -- Gov. Mike Beebe calls for regional collaboration and cooperation to carry the state through tough times in his long-term economic plan released Friday.

"A slower economy will not slow our strategies for economic development," Beebe said. "Pushing forward with this plan now not only builds our current advantages, but will also put our efforts at full speed once the current recession lifts."

Implementing the plan will "lead to progress in work force development infrastructure, business development, competitive business climate and collaborative partnerships," the governor said.

The plan was released by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in advance of Monday's start of the 87th General Assembly. Legislators face a slowing economy and a $4.5 billion budget that includes $146 million in unfunded appropriations.

One of the governor's requests in the budget is another $50 million to replenish his Quick Action Closing Fund, which was approved during the 2007 session. The fund has been used to grant incentives to new businesses, including $2 million to Cooper Tire Co. to keep its Texarkana plant open and $3 million to Caterpillar Inc. to open a new road grader plant in North Little Rock.

Beebe said last week all the money in the fund has been either spent or obligated.

The governor's economic plan calls for the private sector to work with public agencies to help move Arkansas to a state focused on knowledge-based job growth. The plan puts education as the key to economic success.

The plan includes five principles designed to create more income growth opportunities in the state:

• Increase at or above the national average the income growth of Arkansans.

• Expand knowledge-based businesses.

• Improve how the state competes in the global marketplace for jobs and create a business retention strategy to reduce closures.

• Use the assets of the state's various regions when promoting economic development.

• Increase the number of workers with advanced training so they are prepared when they enter the work force.

AEDC Director Maria Haley said work on the plan began in mid-2007 and those involved in economic development in both the public and private sector were consulted.

"Our goal was to develop a comprehensive, living strategic plan that would create the road map for our state's future development," she said.

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