Gov. Asa Hutchinson assembled some of the state's top transportation and mobility leaders on Tuesday, outlining goals for his Arkansas Council on Future Mobility, which he said will “lay the foundation for Arkansas leadership in the transportation industry for decades to come.”
The governor announced plans for the council during his state of the state address last week. He named 17 people to the panel on Tuesday, including executives from companies including Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, Entergy Arkansas Inc., and one of the state's newest companies, electric vehicle maker Canoo Inc.
"The goal of the council that I am creating by executive order today is to ensure that we are prepared for electrification, autonomous vehicles and advanced air mobility to integrate into our existing infrastructure and create an environment in which they can thrive," Hutchinson said during a news conference at the governor's mansion in Little Rock.
The governor's executive order came the same day another electric vehicle maker, Envirotech Vehicles of Corona, California, announced plans to open a manufacturing facility in Osceola and eventually employ 800 people. It will also move its headquarters there.
Executives from Envirotech, which is purchasing a 580,000-SF facility at 1425 Ohlendorf Road in Osceola from the city, also attended Tuesday's governor's mansion event. CEO Phillip Oldridge told Arkansas Business Tuesday afternoon that the company had not been approached yet about having a representative serve on the council but would see that as “a tremendous opportunity.”
The governor has asked the council to:
- Identify state laws and regulations stand in the way of mobility innovations
- Recommend supportive policies and programs
- Develop a plan to secure federal resources and funding
- Review education and workforce training
- Create incentives
Hutchinson asked the council for a report by Nov. 30.
Cyrus Sigari, co-founder and managing partner of venture capital firm Up Partners, will chair the council. He is also executive chairman and co-founder of jetAVIVA, which sells business jets, and is an organizer of Up Summit, annual gathering of leaders in the electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle industry. The next summit, which Sigari called "the Davos of mobility," is scheduled for Bentonville this summer.
"Some of the most transformative internet companies were built in Silicon Valley," he said Tuesday. "We believe some of the most transformative mobility companies will be built here in Arkansas."
Sigari said Arkansas is primed for innovations in mobility because it has been home to industry stalwarts that include Walmart, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, Dassault Falcon Jet of Little Rock and others for decades and is already responsible for the transportation of billions of dollars in goods.
"Our collective vote is that Arkansas become the shining beacon on the hill for others to follow, a model for public-private partnership, accelerating the use of next-generation building technologies for all," Sigari said. He cited projects including electric vehicle startup Canoo's planned move to northwest Arkansas; Walmart’s delivery partnerships with autonomous trucking company Gatik and the drone companies DroneUp and Zipline; J.B. Hunt's partnership with self-driving vehicle company Waymo; and aircraft manufacturer Game Composite’s expansion.
In addition, Runway Group of Bentonville, founded by Walmart Founder Sam Walton’s grandsons Tom and Steuart Walton, has made a multi-million-dollar investment in the state's initiative to be a mobility market leader, according to a Wednesday news release.
"These are all early investors in Arkansas' future, and I'm confident there'll be more companies to follow these leaders," Hutchinson said about the new companies coming to the state.
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston added that the council is an opportunity for the state "to stake that flag in the ground and say, 'This is the jobs that we're going to recruit and go after in the future.'"
Along with Sigari, the governor named the following people to the new council, with more to be announced later:
- Dean Banks, former CEO of Tyson Foods, who has also been involved in the innovation lab formerly known as Google X, which is now a separate division within Alphabet called X.
- Tom Ward, executive vice president and chief e-commerce officer for Walmart U.S.
- Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt.
- Alan Mantooth, distinguished engineering professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas
- Tony Aquila, CEO of Canoo
- Chad Causey, executive director of the Arkansas Aerospace & Defense Alliance
- John Bethel, director of public affairs for Entergy Arkansas
- Daryl Brown, executive director of the South region for Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO)
- Becky Keough, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment
- Lorie Tudor, state secretary of transportation
- Mike Preston, state secretary of commerce
- Jami Cook, secretary of Arkansas Department of Public Safety
- Ted Thomas, chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission
- Jason Morrison, chancellor at Southern Arkansas University Tech
- Hunter Bale, vice president at Bale Chevrolet
- Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association
Tudor also spoke on Tuesday, announcing that Arkansas will receive $54 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for electric vehicle infrastructure over the next five years. The state will have to match 20% of that amount, so the total to be invested is $64.8 million, Tudor said.
Arkansas has already received the first $8 million and guidance on how to spend it, she said, adding that the Arkansas Department of Transportation will seek additional grant funding for such projects.