Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.


A statewide audience and then a local audience were given updates on Arkansas legislative issues last week, including an overview of “priority bills” passed in the 2017 Legislative Session.


Arkansas Economic Developers & Chamber Executives (AEDCE) held its first Government Affairs Conference on Oct. 17. Between 50-60 professional economic developers and chamber of commerce executives attended the day-long meeting in Little Rock. Attendees included Lou Ann Nisbett and Caleb McMahon of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County (Alliance). Both are AEDCE members.


AEDCE was formed in 2016 by the merger of two existing associations, Arkansas Economic Developers and Arkansas Chamber of Commerce Executives. According to its website, this “stronger and unified alliance” has as its objective the advancement of the state’s business climate and quality of life through educational and professional efforts that develop employment opportunities.


The conference agenda filled the bill as educational, Nisbett reports, with the morning’s program offering two sessions of important tips on “Taking Your Government Affairs Program to the Next Level.” It was presented by Dave Kilby, a Californian who serves as president and CEO of the Western Association of Chamber Executives, the largest such association in the country with about 850 members throughout the western United States.


Among other notes, Nisbett reports picking up pointers on data that should be added to the Alliance’s website and posted to its social media accounts. McMahon was excited that the Alliance and Pine Bluff Chamber are already sponsoring many of the programs and activities suggested for an effective economic and community development organization.


The final presentation, entitled “Have More Impact at the State Capitol and at Home,” was given by Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber and Associated Industries of Arkansas. The governmental affairs team of the State Chamber/AIA, along with its members, worked with state legislators prior to the 2017 session toward passage of 23 priority bills, 17 of which passed. They were detailed in a program handout at the conference.


Zook was in Pine Bluff early the following morning to speak to members of the Jefferson County Manufacturing Council at the group’s monthly meeting at the Alliance.


Zook told the manufacturers how several of those adopted measures will impact industry. He also mentioned prior legislation, including a reduction in sales tax on utility costs for manufacturing production processes, and at least one industry executive in the room had not heard of that money-saving program.


Education and workforce quality also were common topics both days—as they have been at most state and national conferences Nisbett has attended lately. “I’m enthused that the State Chamber has workforce development as a priority,” Nisbett said. “It’s key to our state’s future.”