Health Care, Infrastructure Concerns of Business Leaders at Griffin Jobs Conference

by Mark Carter  on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 4:12 pm  

Health-care panelists agreed that more emphasis should be placed on wellness programs and preventative medicine; that individuals should have more "skin in the game" through wellness benefits and even rewards for good health such as premium deductions; that employers should be afforded more flexibility; and that regulatory clarity is needed more than ever.

Susan Gunaca, owner of 10 IHOP restaurants in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton, Bryant, Conway, Searcy, Russellville and Fayetteville, said a growing chunk of her time, perhaps even the majority of it, is devoted to unemployment appeals and navigating government regulations.

"As a business owner today, I'm in a constant posture of defense," she said.

Gunaca employs about 500 people and given the turnover in the restaurant business, is "constantly hiring."

Full health benefits are offered to management-level employees and used as an incentive to others, she said. If the current health-reform law remains in tact, Gunaca said she'll end up having to cut jobs because she won't be able to afford to insure all her part-time employees.


Panelists discussing infrastructure included:

  • Arkansas Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter.
  • Arkansas Trucking Association president Lane Kidd.
  • Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Also represented were Union Pacific, Nabholz Construction, the Little Rock Port Authority, Little Rock National Airport, Mobley Contractors, Lexicon and Maverick USA.

Panelists agreed the crumbling U.S. infrastructure, a big chunk of the stimulus package, must be addressed.

"We have to have the political will to invest in our infrastructure," said Burkhalter, former chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. "But the funding mechanism for highways in this country is systematically flawed."

Griffin advocated more use of the Arkansas River. He supports dredging the river to 12 feet, and noted Welspun's selection of the Little Rock Port for its pipe manufacturing facility was based on the capacity of the barges that could deliver material up river.

"Welspun picked Little Rock because they count on that river," he said.



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