Leader Blues

Saturday, September 05, 2009

TOP STORY >> Beebe says education will create more jobs

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

It would be obvious to even the casual observer that Gov. Mike Beebe is at home in White County. While waiting at ASU-Beebe on Friday morning to talk about the connection between economic development and education, he referred to Chancellor Eugene McKay as Gene and said it wasn’t necessary to wait for him to make it to the stage. The program could start without him, the governor joked.

As part of his Arkansas Works initiative, the governor has asked all 75 counties to develop a strategic plan for improved education and economic development, which he says are inextricably linked.

White County Judge Michael Lincoln, co-chair along with Searcy Mayor Belinda Laforce of the Advancing White County steering committee, said during his brief speech about how the work is going that one of his goals is to make the governor proud of White County.

Beebe said there was no need for that. “I am proud,” he replied.

But now he is the governor and he can’t show favoritism. There are 500 communities in Arkansas, he said. For a governor, that’s like having 500 children. He has to love them all. He may like some better than others but he must treat them the same.

So when it comes to economic development, his job is to bring prospects into the state. After that, every area is on its own.

They’ve got to be prepared and the cities have got to work together.

“If Bald Knob does well, it helps Searcy. If Searcy does well, it helps Beebe. We are all tied together whether we like it or not. And when we work together, it helps us all,” the governor said.

Companies looking to relocate or expand usually need to be close to a freeway or a waterway. Some need infrastructure.

What they all need is a workforce with good work ethics and skills. Work ethics is not a problem. Arkansas has hard workers, the governor said. What those willing workers need is training.

“Education and economic development are tied so closely you can’t talk about one without talking about the other,” he said.

Arkansas, the natural state, is known for its beauty and its friendly people. The governor said the state “must take those natural advantages and build on them” if it is to have economic growth.

And speaking like someone who knows the county well, he said it’s alright for cities to have rivalries except where economic development is concerned.

Beebe can compete with Bald Knob, and Searcy can compete with Bradford, he said. But if a company wants to locate in Arkansas, the cities in White County must pull together if they want to get it, he said.

“Once you realize it’s between Bald Knob and Fort Smith, every city in this county better get behind Bald Knob,” Beebe said.