Arkansas is the workforce of the future: Gov. Hutchinson and GOP speaker

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Source: Office of the Governor
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

In an ever-changing global marketplace, the one factor any state can count on is the skills of its upcoming and existing workforce. Here in Arkansas, we are preparing a generation of learners to meet the needs of businesses by equipping students with workforce training opportunities statewide.

Not only does Arkansas continue to spearhead the computer science and coding movement nationwide, we are setting the foundations for student success in and outside of the classroom.

In 1967, Baldor Electric moved its headquarters from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas. An Arkansas student named John McFarland, enrolled at Westark Community College, went to work for the company and eventually became the president and CEO of Baldor. During his 41 years with Baldor, company sales grew from $20 million to $1.9 billion.

Why is this relevant to Arkansas' business climate? Because Arkansan John McFarland's story is a very American one — working hard, climbing the corporate ladder — and it's an example of what Arkansans can accomplish when the right training combines with the right opportunity.

What my hometown learned

Under my leadership, the state has worked to implement a workforce initiative that includes private-public partnerships with industries, two-year colleges, technical colleges and high schools. And through these mutually beneficial partnerships, students can have access to a job after they graduate.

In today's economy, not everyone needs to invest in and attend a four-year college to achieve their version of the American Dream. The cost of earning a four-year degree is getting higher and higher each year, and it's taking longer for students to obtain. That's why Arkansas offers a variety of skilled career paths for young people entering the workforce.

Consider my hometown, the rural Northwest Arkansas town of Gravette. Less than five years ago, fewer than half the graduating class at Gravette High School planned on going to college or technical school. Today, however, after expanding the school's course offerings to better address the career needs of students, Gravette High School has three career-training programs targeting students who have a higher risk of dropping out and keeping kids in school. More Arkansas graduates increase the number of qualified, skilled workers available to fill positions at new or expanding businesses.

"The state has worked to implement a workforce initiative that includes private-public partnerships with industries, two-year colleges, technical colleges and high schools."

No matter what job skills are needed for businesses currently operating in Arkansas or for businesses looking to relocate here, students are being given the opportunities to respond to the demands of industry. Whether it's welding, computer coding, teaching or manufacturing, Arkansas is doing its part to prepare our students for success.

A better-educated workforce is a vital component of attracting businesses, but this effort is about more than our students. It's about setting the stage for businesses to come here, grow here and be successful here.

The workforce code of the future

When I get economic development calls from business leaders who are considering relocating or expanding in Arkansas, the abilities of our workforce are always a critical part of the conversation. To gain further momentum on our computer science education initiative, Arkansas is implementing a computer science learning program called "Learning Blade," which teaches middle school students about careers in STEM and technology-related fields. This program is just another example of the many ways we are preparing Arkansas' workforce for the careers of the 21st century.

Arkansas has funded more than 40 secondary career centers and satellites over the past year to help our graduates land good jobs. In addition, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education has issued 21 regional workforce grants over the last year. Our state realizes that when our students excel, so do our businesses, our communities and our economy.

Over the next decade, the workforce will undoubtedly continue to change. But in the nation's top states for business, Arkansas stands apart.

You're never too old to start learning, and you're never too young to aim high and achieve great things. And here in Arkansas, we are doing just that. And now, more than ever, we are open for business.

— By Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Editor's note: This commentary was written before the release of the Top States 2016 data. The governor did not have knowledge of the rankings or the comprehensive data.