February/March 2016 Issue
A look back at Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s first year in office, some of his initiatives and what it means for the state’s future.
When Asa Hutchinson was sworn in as Arkansas’ 46th governor on Jan. 13, 2015, he became the state’s first Republican governor to be joined by a Republican-controlled state Senate and House of Representatives and all constitutional offices filled with Republicans.
In his inaugural address, he called the day “historic,” but also referenced how well-positioned Arkansas is for the future. He cited a need to build on the state’s foundation — its natural resources, agriculture, business community and culture — to meet the demands of a changing and technologically advanced world.
“Considering the size of our state and our national and global influence, what Arkansas has done is nothing short of amazing,” Hutchinson said in the address. “And, that’s why I’m so optimistic about our future together. Arkansans can do anything, because, well, we have done everything.”
Now, one year into his term as governor, Hutchinson has been given relatively high marks from political experts of all parties.
“He’s had a very calming effect on Arkansas politics,” said Mark Biviano, former Republican state representative, co-founder of political consulting firm Trace Strategies LLC and AMP contributor. “He’s come in and shown some thoughtful, well-organized leadership without a lot of political fanfare.”
Mariah Hatta, a Democratic public affairs and political consultant, and founder of HMH Advantages, said when he took office, Hutchinson didn’t make any drastic changes. Instead of getting rid of controversial programs, like the Medicaid private option, he set up several task forces and working groups to study the issues. But, she said she wonders about his motives — are the task forces a delay tactic when the governor has already made up his mind?
“Politically, it’s brilliant,” she said, explaining that the outcomes of the task forces will become more apparent in 2016.
Overall, Hatta, who is an AMP contributor, calls the governor “pragmatic,” and said, “I think he’s played the middle of the road within his party pretty well.”
Art English, a political professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who has been watching Arkansas state politics for more than 35 years, said Hutchinson has been “very business-like, very cautious, very much an executive” and doesn’t wear his conservativeness on his sleeve, which has surprised a lot of Democrats.
“I think many anticipated an ideologically tinged governorship,” he said. “I think [Hutchinson] understands we’re a conservative state but with stern elements of progressiveness.”
Hutchinson told AMP that partisanship is for campaigns, not governing. Instead, he said the key to governing is listening to all sides and remaining focused on what’s best for all Arkansans.
“I’m driven by a set of beliefs and convictions as to what we need to accomplish as a state and principles of government,” he said. “But, as to those principles, I’m very pragmatic with working with both parties to accomplish results.”
Health care reform, highway funding, foster care and prison reform are some of the most important issues of 2016, Hutchinson said. He said he will likely call two special legislative sessions to separately address health care reform and highway funding, but had not released details as of press time.
Beyond his first year in office, Hutchinson said he’s poised to ensure Arkansas is at the top when it comes to technology education and a major player in the global economy, including emphasizing economic development.
“Your legacy should be built on how you invest your time and leadership,” he said.
English and Hatta say Arkansas has much potential to become a next-generation leader.
“At one time, you could say we had nowhere to go but up, but now we have opportunities to go further,” English said.
Hatta agrees, “All indications would be if Gov. Hutchinson puts Arkansas first that he’s going to continue to move the state forward — hopefully, in a bigger and faster way.”
1: Combining Tourism & Economic Development
The importance of leveraging the Natural StateLeveraging Arkansas’ abundant natural resources and cultural attractions to draw more visitors has always been the goal of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, but new executive director Kane Webb is planning to take it to the next level in 2016 and beyond.
“I want tourism as a whole to be seen as an economic development driver,” said Webb, who took his post in December 2015. “It is, and it needs to be taken seriously that way. If you look at reasons why companies will move to a state, quality of life is at the top. That speaks directly to our tourism and parks department.”
Tourism is Arkansas’ second-largest industry. In 2014, nearly 26 million people visited the state and spent about $6.7 billion.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, historically, tourism has not been a part of the state’s economic development push, but that will soon change with Webb, who previously served as the governor’s senior adviser, on board.
“I’ve made sure I had an economic development director that understands the importance of tourism,” Hutchinson said. “Quality of life is very important to recruiting industry.”
According to Mike Preston, executive director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission, every 85 visitors to the state creates one job. Boosting tourism not only leads to more jobs, it also encourages further development.
“There’s so many opportunities for tourism that can directly tie into economic development,” he said.
Webb and Preston say they plan to partner and better align their messages to tout the state as a place to visit, a place to live and a place to do business.
When it comes to growing the state’s tourism industry and attracting the next generation visitor, Webb points to the potential of the smartphone. He said the department wants to encourage people to take photos and videos, and post them on social media sites. Using GPS to connect with visitors is another avenue they plan to explore.
“I want [visitors] to be advertisers for what we’ve got here,” he said. “The way we communicate is changing so much so quickly that we have to be on the ball when it comes to that. We have a great product to sell.”
Arkansas as a mountain biking destination is an increasingly popular — and, relatively new — tourism driver, and Webb expects that to continue to grow. Bentonville will host the International Mountain Bicycling Association 2016 World Summit in November.
Webb, a former journalist, said he sees his role at the department as “storyteller at large” and his communicators’ perspective will ensure Arkansas’ tourism message is heard. He said the industry is at a tipping point, and he plans to continue exploring the state’s hidden gems and undiscovered potential.
2: Bringing In the Insider and the Outsider
A look at state agency appointees
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has assembled a fresh crop of appointees to lead Arkansas’ major governmental agencies. Many of these new leaders bring both insider and outsider perspectives to their positions — whether it’s their relative youth, being newcomers to the state or having careers outside of state government.
“It’s a curious mix,” said Art English, political professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “Every governor is looking at legacy, even this early in his career and how to change the orientation of the state in some respects.”
English points out that many of Hutchinson’s appointees are from younger generations, some 30 or more years younger than the governor. Young people in state government “tandems nicely with [Hutchinson’s] emphasis on technology,” he said.
Hutchinson said he looked for talent in those he appointed, and welcomed new and younger faces, sometimes looking beyond Arkansas to find the right person.
“When you look beyond the usual circle, it’s amazing how you find the right person,” Hutchinson said. “It’s more important to identify talent. It’s important to identify those that reflect my view of governing, my priorities.”
A fresh perspective was essential, he explained. For example, Mike Preston, executive director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is from Florida but has an economic development background in his home state. Kane Webb, head of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, had covered the state’s tourism industry as a journalist for many years before serving as an adviser to the governor. There are many other similar examples on Hutchinson’s list of appointments.
“I had an interesting outsider’s/insider’s viewpoint,” Webb said. “I’m an Arkansan, but a newcomer to the industry. That attracted the governor. He’s looking for a type; he’s got a good eye for talent.”
Webb said the governor is “another case of a little bit of an outsider/insider” because of his background, both in Washington, D.C. and in Arkansas. Hutchinson served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and President George W. Bush appointed him administrator at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2001 and undersecretary at the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003.
With all the newcomers at state agencies, Hutchinson has asked agency chiefs to evaluate the inner workings of their organizations and determine how each could run more efficiently, Webb said.
“He’s basically saying, ‘Cast a fresh pair of eyes’ on all these things we’ve taken for granted,” he explained.
Mark Biviano, former Republican state representative and co-founder of political consulting firm Trace Strategies LLC, said finding the right balance to effectively lead state agencies is essential.
“You have to have the right combination of people that come from the outside that bring in some fresh ideas and contacts, but, at the same time, you have to have the right mix of resources to understand how things have worked,” he explained. “You need to look at building a strong strategic plan that combines both of those efforts.”
In early 2016, Hutchinson will name a new head of Arkansas Department of Human Services, the state’s largest government agency. Director John Selig stepped down Jan. 1, 2016 after 10 years in the position. Mississippi-based consulting firm The Pace Group Inc. — the same agency that helped bring Preston to the state — was hired via an $85,000 contract to assist with the search.
“I want someone who can manage people and processes and has the right temperament,” Hutchinson said.
The naming of a new DHS director was expected by the end of January 2016, but no announcement had been made by press time.
“In any government, in what we’re trying to accomplish, you want to have a diversity of thinking,” Hutchinson said. “I bring a little bit of seasoning to governor’s office. It’s important to balance that with the energy of youth. We have a very good balance in the administration with the energy of new leadership with the experience of senior leadership.”
While she said she appreciates that several of Hutchinson’s appointees are younger-generation, Mariah Hatta, a Democratic political and public affairs consultant and founder of HMH Advantages, said the lineup could be more diverse.
“It’s not as progressive and reflective of the state in any sector,” she said.
Of the 42 appointed to head up state agencies, nine are women. Hutchinson reappointed 13 to continue in their posts.
English said despite all the newcomers, “If you look, you’ll find the good ol’ boy patronage is still there.”
“Is it pragmatism or partisanship? A blend of both?” he asks. “Politics is very personal in Arkansas. You need people who can talk to folks.”
The following is a list of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s appointments and reappointments to lead state agencies.
Arkansas Agriculture Department
Wes Ward, secretary of agriculture
Replaced Butch Calhoun, retired in 2014
Arkansas Assessment Coordination Department
Bear Chaney, director
Appointed to replace Debra Asbury
Arkansas Building Authority
Anne Laidlaw, director
Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement
Standards and Training
Jami Cook, director
Appointed to replace Ken Jones
Arkansas Community Correction
Sheila Sharp, director
Arkansas Crime Information Center
Jay Winters, director
Arkansas Crime Laboratory
Kermit Channell, executive director
Arkansas Department of Aeronautics
Jerry Chism, interim director
Former director John Knight retired in 2014
Arkansas Department of Career Education
Charisse Childers, director
Appointed to replace Bill Walker
Arkansas Department of Correction
Wendy Kelley, director
Replaced Ray Hobbs, retired in 2014
Arkansas Department of Education
Johnny Key, commissioner
Replaced Tony Wood
Arkansas Department of Emergency Management
David Maxwell, director
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality
Becky Keogh, director
Replaced Teresa Marks, retired in 2014
Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration
Larry Walther, director
Replaced Richard Weiss, retired in 2014
Arkansas Department of Health
Nathaniel Smith, director and state health officer
Arkansas Department of Higher Education
Brett Powell, director
Replaced Shane Broadway, who took a position
with Arkansas State University System
Arkansas Surgeon General
Greg Bledsoe, surgeon general
Appointed to replace Joe Thompson
Arkansas Tobacco Control
Steve Goode, director
Appointed to replace Elmer J.R. Thomas
Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission
Dale Douthit, chairman
Appointed to replace Arthur Bell
Department of Arkansas Heritage
Stacy Hurst, director
Appointed to replace Martha Miller
Disability Determination for Social Security
Arthur Boutiette, director
Arkansas Department of Human Services
Former director John Selig stepped down Jan. 1, 2016
Arkansas Department of Information Systems
Mark Myers, director
Replaced Claire Bailey, resigned in 2014
Arkansas Department of Labor
Leon Jones Jr., director
Appointed to replace Ricky Belk
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Kane Webb, executive director
Replaced Richard Davies, retired in 2015
Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs
Matt Snead, director
Replaced Sissy Rucker, retired in 2015
Arkansas Department of Workforce Services
Daryl Bassett, director
Appointed to replace Artee Williams
Arkansas Development Finance Authority
Aaron Burkes, president
Appointed to replace Gene Eagle
Arkansas Economic Development Commission
Mike Preston, executive director
Appointed to replace Grant Tennille
Arkansas Forestry Commission
Joe Fox, state forester
Arkansas Geological Survey
Bekki White, director and state geologist
Arkansas Geographic Information Office
Shelby Johnson, director
Arkansas Insurance Department
Allen Kerr, commissioner
Appointed to replace Jay Bradford
Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission
Bruce Holland, executive director
Appointed to replace Preston Scroggin
Arkansas Military Department, Arkansas National Guard
Mark Berry, adjutant general
Appointed to replace William Wofford
Arkansas Natural Resources Commission
Randy Young, executive director
Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission
Lawrence Bengal, director
Arkansas Public Service Commission
Ted Thomas, chairman
Replaced Colette Honorable, who took
a federal government post
Arkansas Securities Department
Edmond Waters, commissioner
Appointed to replace Heath Abshure
Arkansas State Bank Department
Candace Franks, commissioner
Arkansas State Drug Director
Replaced Fran Flener, retired in 2014
Arkansas State Police
Bill Bryant, director
Appointed to replace Stan Witt
Source: Gov. Hutchinson’s office; state agencies listed
3: Becoming a Technological Hub
A look at Arkansas’ path to attracting innovation
“We want every student in Arkansas to have the opportunity to become a Mark Zuckerberg if they wish,” said Anthony Owen at the Dec. 4, 2015, announcement of expanded computer science educational standards for grades K-8.
Owen is the Arkansas Department of Education’s coordinator of computer science, a position created to help carry out Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s computer science initiative. Tech has been a hot topic in the governor’s first year in office, earning him high marks from all sides of the political spectrum, and 2016 will likely see the progression of these programs and the introduction of new ones.
Act 187 of 2015 required each public high school or public charter high school in Arkansas to offer at least one computer science course, either in the classroom or online, starting with the 2015-16 school year. It also established the Arkansas Computer Science and Technology in Public School Task Force, led by technology startup consultant James Hendren, to study the issue and provide recommendations for meeting Hutchinson’s goal of 20 percent of Arkansas students enrolled in computer science over the next four years.
In fall 2015, nearly 4,000 Arkansas high school students were enrolled in computer science.
“I’ve been amazed at how this has been embraced by everyone,” Hutchinson said, referring to legislators, educators and business leaders. The initiative has also garnered national attention.
“I thought it was an ambitious goal, but now I think it’s very attainable and, hopefully, we can exceed it,” he said.
The next step is expanding computer science to students in grades K-8, the first such standards in the nation and recognized by the national Computer Science Teachers Association. ADE accepted public comment on the standards through the end of 2015.
“It’s so exciting that it could be done without an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Hutchinson said. “Think about what can make a difference in this state, most of it costs a lot of money. This one is a matter of emphasis, leadership, and answering the demand of young people.”
Arkansas has the advantage of implementing programs more quickly than other states and seeing quicker results, said Mariah Hatta, a Democratic political and public affairs consultant, and founder of HMH Advantages.
“If the [state] government does this right, we could have a strong impact on the future of Arkansas and the long-term future of encouraging children to get involved in high-tech areas, showing them things that they may not be aware of and creating a better workforce,” she said. “Hopefully, it will snowball in a positive way.”
Statewide access to affordable, high-speed broadband Internet is another tech-related issue on the horizon in 2016. The Federal Communications Commission estimated that about 60 percent of Arkansas do not have broadband access. The legislative Joint Committee for Advanced Communication and Information Technology created a timeline for the study of broadband access and plan to offer final recommendations by fall 2016.
The goal of the governor’s technology initiatives is to create opportunities for the next generation and attract tech-related companies to Arkansas, where there are about 1,700 available tech jobs, Hutchinson said.
Mike Preston, executive director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said computer science education is a step in the right direction for creating a tech-savvy workforce and bringing more tech companies to the state.
“There’s a need for it,” he said. “If we can get more people interested in [computer science] and companies see that we have a workforce, we can grow. It’s not going to be someone in Silicon Valley that’s going to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. It could be someone from somewhere in Arkansas.”
Preston and Hutchinson met with executives at several technology companies, including LinkedIn, Intel, Facebook and others, in Silicon Valley in May 2015. Preston said the companies expressed much interest in Arkansas’ computer science education.
“They wanted to know how Arkansas did it and no one else — California, New York or Massachusetts — had done it,” Preston said.
Last year, a few Arkansas tech firms expanded or added new offices to the state.
In 2015, Metova, which develops apps and technological strategy for companies such as Yelp, Dropbox, eHarmony, Flixter and others, announced an additional 100 jobs at its Conway office and an expansion to Fayetteville, along with 30 jobs there. And, two tech firms — Inuvo Inc. and PrivacyStar, a First Orion company — unveiled their new headquarters in downtown Little Rock’s River Market District and promised 75 new tech jobs in 2016.
Hutchinson has said that he would like to see central Arkansas become a “micro hub” for tech companies. To get there, he said, it takes more companies, and the eventual development of the Little Rock Tech Park will create more opportunities.
“We have a good start,” he said. “We need to keep doing what we’re doing and planting a flag in the ground to say, ‘We are going to be a micro hub for tech companies.’”
A homegrown workforce is also essential, he said, and that’s where statewide computer science education comes in. According to AEDC, more than 13,000 Arkansans are currently employed in the information-technology sector.
Adding computer science allows for innovation within state curricula, said Mark Biviano, a former Republican state representative and co-founder of Trace Strategies LLC, a political consulting firm.
4: Marketing Arkansas as a Business Destination
How the state can be a global powerhouse
When it comes to economic development, getting outside the state and telling Arkansas’ story is what attracts companies, entices existing ones to expand and creates jobs — all of which is essential to continued growth. With a new state economic development director in place and several business recruitment trips in 2015, Arkansas is at the starting line in the global economic race.
When the governor takes part in business recruitment and trade mission trips, it gives the state more clout with foreign government leaders and business executives, said Mike Preston, executive director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
“Having the chief executive officer of a state, the No. 1 person in the state, I can’t say enough about the doors it will open,” he said.
Preston, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state leaders traveled to France, Germany, China, Japan, Cuba and Silicon Valley touting Arkansas as a place to do business in 2015. Also last year, state officials signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam’s Dong Nai Province to boost economic development, trade and educational opportunities between Arkansas and the province; participated in Wal-Mart’s Made in the USA Summit; attended international trade shows; and met with many key national and international business and government leaders.
Also in 2015, there were many economic development announcements — new jobs and expansions from both companies that already have an Arkansas presence and newcomers. A few highlights include J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.’s announcement of expansion at its Lowell headquarters, along with 1,000 new jobs; Dassault Falcon Jet’s addition of 350,000 square feet to its Little Rock Completion Center; and, French company Sediver’s announcement to build a manufacturing plant in West Memphis to produce glass insulators for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project.
In total, Arkansas signed more than 100 economic development deals in 2015, with about 5,000 new jobs and nearly $2 billion in capital investment promised, Preston said.
“We are moving in the right direction. We’ve got a lot of momentum,” he said. “Once we start telling the story about Arkansas, people are so interested.”
AEDC plans to emphasize marketing in 2016, with the goal of branding Arkansas as a business destination. The agency recently hired Jeff Moore as director of marketing and communications. Preston said there will also be more international travel in 2016, and there are several new, unannounced projects in the pipeline.
“Economic development is something you drive every year with a consistent message,” Hutchinson said.
With all the economic development successes of 2015, one fail for the state was Lockheed Martin’s loss of the $30 billion U.S. Department of Defense contract to build Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at its Camden facility, which would have added about 1,000 jobs to the area. The company filed a federal lawsuit in December 2015 over the decision after its protest for not receiving the contract was dismissed. Hutchinson had called a special legislative session in May 2015 to pass an $87 million incentive package for Lockheed Martin.
Preston, who moved to Arkansas from Florida in spring 2015 to lead AEDC, said it was Hutchinson’s vision for economic development that attracted him to the state. That vision is to ensure that Arkansas remains competitive on a global scale and to provide the necessary resources to get there.
“I knew this governor understood economic development,” Preston said. “Everyone likes to see jobs, but there’s a difference between a governor really getting economic development and committing time to it. That’s something that I knew this governor would do, and he’s knocked it out of the park.”