The 10 counties in the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District have become certified as ACT Work Ready Communities, state and district officials announced Wednesday.
The 10 counties are Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jeffferson and Lincoln counties.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the No. 1 question he gets in recruiting private industry to Arkansas is how is industry going to get a workforce.
"What you have done has allowed us to make the case that we have the workforce that is trained [and] ready to go," the Republican governor told more than 50 officials from southeast Arkansas at the state Capitol. "We know exactly their levels of expertise. They are certified, and we can make the case that southeast Arkansas is ready to do business and ready to receive a new investment of industry."
Hutchinson said he went to Europe earlier this year and "the focal point of our conversation was south and southeast Arkansas."
He said he hopes in the last four months of his administration that "we can continue to have success in terms of business growth, announcements and expansions, and that some of those visits that we made will come to bear fruit and mean a big difference for your communities in southeast Arkansas."
Shane Knight, deputy director for the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District, said the ACT Work Ready Communities initiative empowers communities and states with a process, data and tools deployed in a comprehensive workforce development framework that will drive economic growth by certifying entities as work ready with established goals for attainment.
The framework allows each participating community to quantify and improve the skill levels of its workforce through a standardized workforce skill credential -- the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate -- supported by data updated online by Iowa-based ACT on a monthly basis, the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District said in a news release.
Thirty-four of Arkansas' 75 counties are participating in the ACT Work Ready communities initiative, said Jasen Jones, a regional manager for ACT Work Ready Communities.
Hutchinson said he has a WINS agenda for his eighth and final year of governor that ends in January. The W stands for workforce, the I stands for infrastructure investment, the N stands for for new economy jobs and S stands for strengthening Arkansas families, he said.
"They are all tied together," he said. "When you concentrate on workforce, then you strengthen Arkansas families. Whenever you concentrate on workforce, you help us bring those new economy jobs to our community."