Tuesday, October 15, 2013

University advises rural Arkansas to make up for loss of jobs by developing existing resources

After a steady decline in manufacturing jobs in rural Arkansas, 53,000 since 2000, state officials have determined that The Natural State can no longer depend on manufacturing firms to provide jobs. Instead, a new economic-development strategy calls on communities to find new ways to develop existing resources, according to the Rural Profile of Arkansas 2013, written by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “It’s an entirely different way to approach economic development,” said Dr. Wayne Miller, one of the authors of the profile “What we’re trying to promote is more indigenous growth, more entrepreneurial opportunities.”

Arkansas ranks 49th in the number of adults with college degrees, and only 13 percent of rural residents have one, compared to 24 percent in urban areas of the state and 30 percent nationally. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe stressed that connection between higher education and economic development in a recent speech, saying: “There is a correlation and a tie between education and economic development, and specifically between our roles in higher education. Inevitably, they all require a higher and higher skill level and a higher and higher degree of education in order to be productive.”

Another key is looking for more inventive ways to create jobs around resources communities already have, the report says. Instead of shipping crops of animals to other states for processing, the processing could be done in Arkansas, and "Instead of depending solely on the fresh fruit market, many are now producing jams, jellies and juices for sale to consumers and even selling byproducts, such as seeds and husks, to the health food market." Other ideas include having communities build on their tourist opportunities, as well as finding ways to add value to the timber and rice industries.

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