U.S. Senator John Boozman sat in on the April 20 meeting of the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council Board and spoke with economic development leaders from Columbia, Ouachita, Calhoun and Union counties.
"You all do a tremendous job of representing the region. In the old days, you could kind of go it alone, but you have the right idea because you have to think regionally," Boozman said.
Boozman touched on the I-69 corridor, which will cross the Ouachita River and run north of El Dorado near Louann to meet US 82 west of El Dorado between Magnolia and El Dorado, noting that a lot of untouched dollars were located in the transportation bill and efforts would be made to move some of that funding for the I-19 project.
"We'll just have to wait and see. It's not for lack of trying," Boozman said.
He touted the defense work done in Highland Industrial Park, stating, "We're working really hard with the defense industry in Camden. That's something that lot of people don't realize how big of a deal it is. We're blessed in the sense that we're not in a fighting warfare, but economic warfare. And we're seeing it in Ukraine, we're seeing it in the China looking at Taiwan. One of the things we need to do as a nation is protect ourselves."
He also tackled inflation and the rising cost of fuel.
"I'm very concerned, as you are, about inflation, as I go around and look. The problem is a lot of those people commute, a lot of people are driving all over the place in this part of the country. That makes a big difference. So we're working hard to try and get the administration to produce more resources. We're blessed with an abundance of energy, "Boozman said. "We've got oil, we've got gas, we've got coal, wind and solar, geothermal. I'm for using all of it."
Boozman cited a need for the United States to stop relying on countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia for oil and stated that U.S. drilling practices were more responsible compared to those countries.
Boozman added, "Labor is a huge issue. I was at (South Arkansas Community College) talking about that. That's just an issue that something is difficult to deal with. I don't care who you are, what you produce, it's just difficult to find the workforce, regardless of the wages that you pay."
Boozman stated that before COVID, the U.S. had was the best economy in 50 years and now, for every person out of work there are 1.7 jobs available. He said Baby Boomers aging out of the job market and young people marrying and having children later in life also contribute to the problem.