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Arkansas’s economic recovery strategy has wider applicability

July 08, 2021
By: Mark Skinner

Whether or not your state embraced strict measures in an attempt to reduce virus spread, the current pandemic has created the need for reflection and revision of how each of us go about our lives. The same opportunity has arisen for the public and private sectors to rethink how they engage in many core functions.  Civic leaders in Arkansas did just that and today released a strategic plan with recommendations to guide economic development in the new era.  Its central themes, including strong focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, and talent, could have broader applicability to other states as we move forward.

Innovation and R&D figure prominently in the state’s new direction: “To create meaningful change in the Arkansas economy, the state must embrace innovation as a critical driver of economic prosperity. This will require a cultural shift incorporating robust and long-term investments in the innovation ecosystem … .” For conventional economic development practices, this means revisiting the state’s “incentives and metrics to align them with knowledge-based economic development priorities and support for innovation.” 

The plan also calls for the state to use most, if not all, of its pending SSBCI funds to “make seed and early-stage capital investments in export-oriented, high growth firms” either directly or through the Arkansas Institutional Fund. 

The members of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, comprised of more than three dozen industry, political and other civic leaders from across the state, single out the Arkansas Research Alliance in the recovery strategy, acknowledging its work “to leverage university research to change the economic trajectory of Arkansas.” The recommendations encourage the state to “accelerate the potential for patenting and licensing of academic research through support of the Arkansas Research Alliance’s (ARA) recruitment of faculty interested in generating intellectual property useful to local industries.  

The authors also recommend creating a fellowship program within ARA using collaborative teams comprised of “a Scientist-in-Residence and Entrepreneur-in-Residence” to assist with commercialization of intellectual property. 

The results already seen from the work of organizations like ARA and many of the other public-private initiatives across Arkansas that are recommended to receive greater support through the new economic recovery strategy are among the central reasons SSTI is bringing its annual conference, Focusing on the Future, to Little Rock Nov. 1-3, 2021. The event provides innovation and economic development leaders from across the country a unique opportunity to share ideas, best practices and battle scars on helping to change the culture of how states and communities approach creating economic prosperity.

The Arkansas Economic Recovery Strategy, written by Heartland Forward, is available here.

Arkansaseconomic development, innovation, r&d, strategic plan, ssbci