By Bradly Gill
Infrastructure and labor shortages were topics of conversation as U.S. Senator John Boozman met with site leaders from Highland Industrial Park Wednesday at the Highland Guest House at SAU Tech.
“I think in Arkansas, what you all do here is probably one of the least understood places in our state,” Boozman said.
Boozman addressed representatives from companies such as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Spectra Technologies, Armtech, as well as Highland President Gene Hill, Calhoun County Judge Floyd Nutt, Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development Executive Director James Lee Silliman and SAU Tech Chancellor Jason Morrison.
“The infrastructure package you’ve been hearing about is kind of the base build…The question is how much do you spend responsibly?” Boozman said.
David Siggers, President of Spectra Technology praised Arkansas’s emphasis on STEM and said that with workers, “It’s a lot harder to bring them in from outside. “
Siggers also said that with Indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts, it was hard to judge the amount of production his company needed to provide to fulfill government demands.
John Clay site manger of Raytheon said, “Hiring people is very difficult.”
Clay went on to talk about how he though Camden might not be at the right stage in development to fully bring people into the workforce, “I think Camden needs to grow a little bit.” he said.
Calhoun County Judge Floyd Nutt said, “As far as labor goes, I don’t see it getting any better as long as we are sending money to houses.”
Nutt was referring to the unemployment assistance many people had been receiving during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Nutt also asked Boozman if the U.S. Treasury department had hammered out detailed on the American Rescue Plan Funds and how they could be spent.
Boozman said that the details were “nebulous” and that many counties were afraid to spend the funds on projects in case it was determined later that they were ineligible for funds.
SAU Tech Chancellor Jason Morrison said that while the infrastructure of SAU Tech, being an almost 80 year old campus, needed constant work and that he himself had been on rooftops of buildings to see the state they were in.
He thanked industry leaders for work done on the inside of buildings and replacing HVAC units, but said that he would hope to get grant money for repairs as well as a DRA grant to fund that would train students for work in the defense industry.
Justin Routon, site director at Lockheed Martin said that affordable housing and childcare were two big issues facing his company, so much so that Lockheed Martin interns are staying on campus at SAU Tech. Routon noted that Lockheed Martin was working with local businesses to solve the childcare problem as well.
General Dynamics Director of Operations, Erik Perrin said that he faces an uphill battle with drug testing and loses ” a third of my candidates from drug testing. While it might be unpopular, I do believe we need to take a hard look at revising federal legalisation regarding marijuana. It would open up another avenue of people that may get in the door.”
“We’ve lost some talented people over that issue.”
Boozman said with societies changing attitude he wouldn’t be surprised if recreational marijuana was legalised in the federal election.
OPED Executive Director James Lee Silliman asked about the funding of Interstate 69 which would run 7 miles south of Camden.
Silliman said, “Techncially, it’s shovel ready….I 69 has been designated by the Department of Transportaition as a designated trade corridor, If we had that interstate in place today, the issue with the Mississippi River Bridge to Memphis and West Memphis, that’s closed now, you might not have that traffic congestion that’s caused by that bridge closure, because we’d have an alternative route.”
Boozman said that there would be funding, but there was still a question of how much. He also noted that while much of the United States Interstate system ran East to West, I-69 would run North to South.
Gene Hill, President of Highland Industrial Park, closed the meeting by noting the population exodus from South Arkansas to Northwest Arkansas has been dramatic.
Hill also noted with some building in the park being 75 years old there were obsolescence issues with them.