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.

Effective Jan. 9, retired Col. Robert (Bob) Ator II of Little Rock is the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s new director of military affairs. As such, he has assumed oversight of the mission of the state Military Affairs Committee.

According to an AEDC press release, in addition to past active duty U.S. Air Force assignments, Col. Ator recently retired from military service after serving as commander of the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard (the largest Air National Guard C-130 Wing in the United States). During that time, he is credited with implementing strategies and building partnerships that increased the significance of the 189th Airlift Wing, the Little Rock Air Force Base and the state of Arkansas in the nation’s defense by “reimagining uses for existing infrastructure and seeking out new missions.”

Col. Ator is an experienced C-130 Hercules instructor/evaluator and functional check pilot and is the author of the syllabi currently used to train all C-130 aircrew in the U.S. In the press release, he was quoted as being very pleased to join AEDC and continue the work of strengthening the state’s military growth.

“The U.S. military is an important economic driver in Arkansas—currently providing 64,000 direct and indirect jobs and a local economic impact of more than $4.5 billion a year,” said the colonel, who is also known by the nickname ‘Gator.’

Gov. Asa Hutchinson established the 10-member Military Affairs Committee in Sept. 2015 to bring together public and private leaders around the state to help grow and protect the state’s military installations and promote their utilization and missions.

Lou Ann Nisbett, Alliance president and CEO, was selected by the governor for inaugural committee membership to represent Jefferson County, home of the Pine Bluff Arsenal. She participated in the committee’s subsequent series of base tours around the state, including the arsenal, as the group sought “to see what we have” and better understand “what might be needed to address any concerns, needs or issues and make our bases stronger,” she explained.

In support of the state’s military missions and related economic development interests, funding was appropriated to AEDC in 2016 to establish the Military Affairs Grant Program. Eligible applicants may request funds for projects and programs that strengthen and sustain military installations in Arkansas, resulting in economic growth in host communities and their regions, according to grant program rules.

Nisbett continues to serve on this committee and participated Jan. 30 when members met in Little Rock to consider the first round of grant applications. An announcement of selected recipients is forthcoming, she said.

The meeting also gave committee members the opportunity to meet Col. Ator.

“After meeting the new military affairs director, I think he has the perfect background to help us promote Arkansas’ military installations and attract more base-related jobs and military veterans to the state,” Nisbett said.