Efforts to stimulate economic investment in rural communities across Arkansas are outlined in a new report by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
Dr. Wayne Miller, an extension economist, says the Rural Profile of Arkansas 2013 report shows how many manufacturing jobs in small towns have been shipped overseas to South America and Asia in recent years.
Miller admits those jobs will probably never return, not as a result of the recent recession, but because of long-term structural changes occurring in rural Arkansas.
“I think there is a lot of opportunities for job growth in rural Arkansas, but it requires a change in our thinking away from trying to recruit some firm to come in and provide jobs for the residents in the region and looking at what we have locally and how we can use those resources to create products that people want to buy,” said Miller.
Miller says economic progress can be made if policymakers rethink their approach to development. He says there needs to be a fundamental shift from constantly looking for ways to attract outside business interests to a new focus on investing in the human capital and natural resources that already exist in rural areas.
Figures in the assessment show that between 2000 and 2010, rural areas of the state lost more than 53,000 manufacturing jobs.
“Over the past couple of decades, rural Arkansas has relied on a small manufacturing base to provide a lot of jobs and income for rural residents,” Miller said. “Many of those jobs have moved overseas and will not be coming back.”
In order to reverse the decline, Miller says economic development initiatives must include efforts to provide training and new educational opportunities for workers who have been displaced by plant closures.