Cotton attends business round table at ASU-MH

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton spent part of Tuesday meeting with Twin Lakes Area business leaders at a round-table discussion held at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home.

The Republican senator began his day by touring the North Arkansas College Technical Center in Harrison and held a lunchtime round table with the Boone County Chamber of Commerce, before traveling east for the ASU-MH round table and a tour of Baxter International.

Cotton, who lives in Dardanelle, spent 45 minutes Thursday afternoon at the Vada Sheid Community Development Center meeting with more than 30 representatives from area businesses.

“I have very little to say. I didn’t come to talk at you, I came to talk with you,” Cotton told the round table in his opening remarks.

Some of the subjects covered at the discussion included the availability of workers, government regulations on smaller banks and partnerships between educational facilities and local manufacturers.

“The work force and economic development are our No. 1 issues,”Mountain Home round-table host Lang Zimmerman said in his welcome to the senator.

Zimmerman, who represented Yelcot Communications, Big Creek Golf & Country Club and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission at Tuesday’s meeting, said he thought the event went well.

“Everyone had a chance to ask questions,” he said Wednesday. “It was good getting manufacturers and people from the Mountain Home School District and ASU-Mountain Home all together. The senator would jump in and offer his thoughts as topics came up.”

Arkansas’ unemployment rate dropped to an all-time low in July, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor released by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Development on Aug. 16.

The state’s unemployment rate fell for the third-consecutive month to 3.4 percent in July, down from 3.5 percent in June and down two-tenths of a percentage point from 3.6 percent for July 2018.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 states had unemployment rates lower than the national average, eight states and the District of Columbia had higher rates, and 28 states had rates similar to the national average.

“On one hand, you’ve got a really strong economy,” Cotton told The Baxter Bulletin after the round table adjourned. “Our unemployment rate is lower than the national average and wages are going up for workers. That also means that some businesses are struggling to find workers, especially well-trained workers.”

Arkansas added 802 jobs in July, bringing the number of employed to 1,316,265 for the month. The state has added 15,625 jobs since July 2018. There were 46,902 unemployed workers in July, down 392 workers from last month and 2,253 lower compared with July of last year.

“The benefits for workers of a low unemployment rate is that employers are going to pay high wages, offer more benefits and job training. Maybe they offer tuition reimbursement or loan repayment,” Cotton said after the meeting. “That’s a good thing, especially when you look over the past 30 or 40 years that working-class Americans — folks that are working hard, working with their hands, working on their feet all day — really haven’t benefited as much from the growing prosperity of our country as the wealthiest have. I’m really excited that after a couple years of this strong economy, you are seeing wages increase.”

Educating the local workforce was one of the round table’s pressing issues, Cotton said.

“One thing I heard today from a lot of your local employers was the effort to find public and private partnerships where your educational institutions — whether that’s ASU or your local public school — are working with manufacturers or with your healthcare companies to try and give them a general education and the hands-on skills they need,” Cotton said.

The senator praised the area’s natural beauty as a secret weapon an employer can use to attract prospective employees.

“There shouldn’t be any trouble getting workers in Mountain Home — or Baxter County more broadly — probably because if the secret got out about how beautiful it is here, you’d be inundated with people moving here,” he said.