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Secretary Locke Announces $5.25 Million Investment in Arkansas Job Creation, Economic Development


Friday, April 17, 2009



Remarks Announcing EDA Grants to Arkansas
Reynolds Center for Business
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Little Rock, Arkansas

Thank you, Crash, for that kind introduction. In all my years of public service, you are officially the first “Crash” who has ever introduced me.

It is my honor to be here with you today on my first trip on behalf of the Commerce Department. Before I begin, though, I’d like to recognize a few people.

Thank you, Chancellor Joel Anderson, for hosting us today in this impressive building, which the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration is proud to have had a hand in developing. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has been an invaluable partner to EDA, and we expect more great things to come as a result of this partnership.

I’m also joined here today by Governor Mike Beebe who gave a great welcome, and of course, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, who cares deeply about the people of Arkansas and is an effective and respected advocate for you in Washington, DC. Gentlemen, I thank you both for your leadership.

Finally, I would also like to recognize Phil Paradice, Director of the Economic Development Administration’s Atlanta Regional Office, who is “pinch-hitting” for Austin Regional Director Pedro Garza, who serves Arkansas, but could not be here today.

Thank you, Phil, for your dedication to EDA’s mission.

As Secretary of Commerce, my job is to help implement President Obama’s ambitious agenda to turn around the economy and put Americans back to work.

The President believes, like I do, that we must renew America’s promise by fostering innovation and helping local economies grow …and that’s why I’m in Little Rock today.

I am pleased to announce that the EDA is investing in three Arkansas communities to help them along the path to economic recovery.

The three grants—totaling $5.25 million—will aid economic recovery in Conway County, Jonesboro and Fort Smith.

All of these grants were made possible by a decision last year by Congress to provide the Economic Development Administration with half a billion dollars to assist communities dealing with devastating natural disasters.

What Congress couldn’t foresee in 2008, however, is that the hardships visited on Arkansas by nature would be compounded by the man-made trauma of this economic downturn.

In the first half of 2008 alone, Arkansas was hit hard by three natural disasters.

In Conway County, severe storms, flooding and tornadoes resulted in damages exceeding $23 million. Crops, livestock and farming equipment were destroyed.

But it is our strong belief that an EDA grant of $1.5 million will support Conway County’s strategy for economic recovery and growth.

The money will help fund infrastructure improvements to May Hope Moose and North Industrial Parks. This will allow Conway County to capitalize on those parks’ proximity to the Fayetteville Shale Play, a natural gas reservoir expected to play a critical role in the emergence of a natural gas industry in north-central Arkansas.

Over the next 30 years, the Fayetteville Shale Play will serve as a foundation for new business growth and the creation of higher-skill, higher-wage jobs in Arkansas, all while strengthening the nation’s energy supply.

Like Conway County, Jonesboro was hit last year by a series of severe storms, as well as flooding caused by Hurricane Ike. The second EDA investment—a $1.75 million grant—will help Arkansas State University in Jonesboro build the Commercial Innovation Center. Growing technology-focused small businesses is the key to long-term prosperity for the region.

The Center will serve as a tech-business incubator. At full capacity, this facility will contain space for 12 labs with accompanying office space and will play an integral role in the development of higher-skilled, higher-wage technology jobs in Northeast Arkansas

This facility will also coordinate with the Delta Center for Economic Development to assist rural leaders in areas impacted by recent natural disasters.

Finally, in the last year, Fort Smith weathered not only natural disasters but also a significant loss of manufacturing jobs.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that EDA is investing $2 million in the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to help build the Regional Entrepreneurial and Innovation Resource Center.

The Center will help small businesses address and solve the challenges they face in the wake of economic and natural disasters by offering educational programs and response mechanisms. It will utilize the latest technologies to encourage small business growth and innovation and provide entrepreneurial training and development.

Now, I want to recognize (and possibly embarrass) a few people who are here today to accept the grants on behalf of their communities. If you would, please stand and be recognized when I call your name.

Dr. Robert Potts is the chancellor of Arkansas State University and is with us today to accept the investment on behalf of ASU. Dr. Potts, thank you for all your work in higher education and for joining us today on behalf of ASU.

Next, Dr. Paul Beran, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, joins us today on behalf of the university. Dr. Beran also chairs the executive board of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Fort Smith, an organization that develops initiatives to promote, grow and stimulate entrepreneurship. Dr. Beran, thank you for being with us.

Finally, I want to thank Judge Jimmy Hart who is here on behalf of Conway County. Judge Hart is a member of Conway County’s Economic Development Corporation and is vice chairman of the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Thank you, Judge Hart, for your public service and for being with us today.

All three of these EDA investments answer President Obama’s call to advance job creation, innovation and entrepreneurship in order to strengthen our economy and renew America’s promise of prosperity and growth. And it is my pleasure to be here on his behalf.

Thank you.

And that brings me to another part of the reason I came here today. I want to hear directly from you about the challenges you’re facing and your ideas for turning things around.

I’ve now been on the job a grand total of three weeks, so I can’t promise to know all the answers or every detail of every program the administration has embarked on. There are many. . . as you may have heard.

But what I can promise is that if I don’t know, I’ll get you an answer, and more important, I’ll take your thoughts and concerns back to President Obama.

If you will raise your hands, I will get to as many questions or comments as I have time for.

Thank you.