Our nation is celebrating National Economic Development Week to remind us all what economic development really means: It's about creating partnerships devoted to building healthy communities that are diversified and resilient enough to survive future economic and natural adversity.
The partnership between the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) demonstrates how state-federal partnerships encourage business growth and help create jobs for Arkansans. Working together, under the leadership of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, we'll continue to focus on the future growth and development of our state and our region.
Arkansas will play an important part in celebrating economic development efforts when it hosts the International Economic Development Council's 2017 Economic Future Forum June 4-6.
As two of the state's key economic development agencies, AEDC and DRA share common goals: Creating economic opportunities for all by attracting higher-paying jobs; expanding and diversifying local communities and regional economies; supporting innovation by expanding the capacity of employees, companies, communities, local development agencies and investors; enhancing learning and training opportunities for students and employees to ensure they are employable; and encouraging startups, entrepreneurs and small business by developing an ecosystem that offers training, mentoring, and access to capital.
With support from regional planning and development districts, both agencies are bringing great success to the state and the region--including all eight states and 252 counties and parishes served by DRA.
Just consider the momentum in Arkansas under Hutchinson: 59,500 more Arkansans are employed today than when the governor took office two years ago; unemployment recently hit an all-time low and has been below the national average for 17 consecutive months; AEDC has signed more than 220 agreements over the last two years with new and expanding companies, resulting in more than $4 billion in new investment in the state.
Overall, DRA has invested and partnered with public and private entities to provide $717.3 million to Arkansas' economic development efforts. And AEDC, the state's leading advocate of economic development, has attracted major national and international companies to Arkansas.
One of DRA's investment priorities is developing work-ready communities in Arkansas. The initiative has been launched in 12 east Arkansas counties, and another five counties were recently announced in southeast Arkansas. Developing work-ready communities is a collaborative effort that includes educators, economic leaders and businesses working together to reach common goals.
Infrastructure investments enhance and sustain economic development in Arkansas. The Helena Harbor in Phillips County is a perfect example.
DRA invested $155,500 to improve the rail system serving the port, collaborating with partners for a total investment of $655,000. Rail service had been halted, and DRA's investment with partners brought the line up to industry standards. That investment retained industries that otherwise would have relocated and helped enhance the multimillion-dollar investment that Helena Harbor had made to its rail spur. An improved rail line also increased the city's efforts to attract new industry. Earlier this year, international company SolFuels announced it would expand and add more than a dozen employees to a new site at the port.
Last year in Arkansas, DRA partnered with public and private investors to deliver nearly $26 million in investments in the state. That helped create and retain nearly 1,000 jobs, trained nearly 900 workers, and delivered improved sewer and water to more than 1,200 families in the state.
Both of our organizations are committed to attracting and supporting entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. The primary objective of AEDC's Science and Technology Division includes support for the groundbreaking research conducted in Arkansas, which leads to the successful launch of vibrant, innovative companies. In addition, AEDC's Small and Minority Business Division promotes the growth of small and minority business enterprises by providing them with technical and professional assistance, certification, procurement, networking, capital and contracting opportunities.
DRA has increased its investment into small businesses and entrepreneurs by 200 percent since 2010. These investments in entrepreneurs and support programs have reached nearly $11 million, with a total of $27 million being leveraged in partner dollars.
DRA launched the Delta Innovation Fund in partnership with Winrock International of Little Rock and the Economic Development Administration. The fund includes an initial $1 million investment from DRA and an additional $1 million investment from the private sector. This initiative targets local entrepreneurs in Arkansas and the Delta region and provides key training, mentoring, and capital investment to help them build their businesses.
Arkansas and the Delta region have the most important ingredients for continued success--community leaders and regional planning and development districts committed to business growth. As economic development professionals, it is up to us to build on these resources--it's about changing lives for the better.
Chris Masingill is chairman of the Delta Regional Authority; Mike Preston is executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Editorial on 05/11/2017