Arkansas junior U.S. Sen. John Boozman said Monday that despite an abundance of challenges in America, there’s also plenty of promise, pointing to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as an example.

Arkansas junior U.S. Sen. John Boozman said Monday that despite an abundance of challenges in America, there’s also plenty of promise, pointing to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as an example.

Boozman, a Rogers resident and former U.S. representative, told about 20 local leaders during a luncheon at the Greater Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce that in the fields of agriculture and nanotechnology, UAPB is "as good as any."

Supporting an audience member’s observance that nanotechnology provides an array of potential investments, Boozman said the state is doing a good job in the field, and that the University of Arkansas System and Arkansas State University have shown a sound ability in collaborating in order to stretch education dollars.

Saying he backs federal education funding for UAPB, Boozman expressed confidence in the abilities of Arkansas’ colleges and universities.

"We can compete with anybody," he said after referencing the distribution of federal funds, "but we need to make sure it’s on a level playing field."

Noting UAPB’s leadership in such agricultural-based areas as its acclaimed fisheries program, the senator said that while "so many things lend themselves to agriculture," there’s much more to the Delta region. He believes a key in helping to enhance the area’s future is public/private partnerships.

"We need to work together to protect our opportunities," Boozman said, adding that public/private efforts are an excellent means of promoting a firm’s community standing by illustrating its ties to an institution.

Boozman thinks educational advancements need to start in students’ early classroom years, and toward that aim teachers may have to formulate avenues of "working outside the box." He stressed an appreciation for teachers, saying they "work very, very hard, and I appreciate them."

He said teachers are tested by the constantly developing world.

"Technologies change every four or five years," Boozman said.

The senator said he worries about the high school dropout rate.

"I don’t know what a dropout does to live these days," he said.

Boozman also addressed infrastructure concerns, pointing out that fuel tax revenues are down because of several factors, including better gas mileage among many automobiles. Meanwhile, Americans are driving less because of economic conditions, he said.

Household incomes have declined over the past several years, the senator said, and families’ spending patterns have been altered. He said the federal Highway Trust Fund is going broke this year, and state highway departments are encountering shortfalls as well.

Boozman agreed with an audience member’s assessment that Southeast Arkansas is "a forgotten corner" in interstate development and more federal attention should be given to the area’s plight so as to energize its economic development.

Just as important as roadway development, Boozman said, are rail, river and air improvements.

A Fort Smith native, Boozman said he felt the recently adopted and enacted farm bill represented the positive possibilities of bipartisan congressional support. He said the days of working independently have passed and elected leaders and their constituents "have to think and act together" to achieve success.

Boozman said a major step toward helping business is aiding banks by making certain banks aren’t over-regulated.

"Small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and banks are the backbone of small businesses," he said. "Banking has gotten more and more complicated because of regulations. We need some regulations, but we need common-sense regulations."

On the question of a proposed minimum wage hike, Boozman said he can see where people could "argue on both sides of the issue." He said some believe that a minimum wage increase could actually eliminate the jobs of some lower-salaried workers.

Boozman said he feels that that because of current economic conditions, "it’s not a good time" for increasing the minimum wage.