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Coolest Thing Made in Arkansas? You Tell Us (Randy Zook Commentary)

3 min read

The Arkansas State Chamber and Associated Industries of Arkansas are partnering with Arkansas Business this year to determine the “Coolest Thing Made in Arkansas.” Why? Because making things is a big deal for all Arkansans, especially those 150,000-plus who work in manufacturing.

Manufacturing has strategic importance, the pay rates are well above average, and the career opportunities are wide-ranging, as well as attractive. Let’s explore each of these three separately.

One of the most important realizations that surfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic is that our supply chains for many, many products have become dangerously long and complex. Shortages and outages for myriad products, from auto parts and semiconductor chips to household products — even medicines — occurred because of dependence on sources beyond our shores and beyond our control. Prices are rising at record rates because of lack of competition and alternate supply sources. We are far too dependent on manufacturers in other countries, mainly China, who are unfriendly and opposed to our interests.

We have enormous opportunities to correct these imbalances and reduce our near total reliance on these once benign competitors. Price alone cannot be the sole determinant; dependability is at least as important in the long run.

Daily discussions in thousands of companies across the U.S. and Europe focus on how best to realign supply chains to reduce our vulnerability to disruptions up to and including pandemics. Shipping and transport exposures are being reconsidered as well.

That all adds up to reshoring at least a significant portion of many businesses. This will mean new plants in friendlier parts of the world, especially here at home. Arkansas can benefit from these changes by aggressively pursuing companies and their investments to mitigate risky logistical relationships. We are a prime candidate in the heart of America with great location, good infrastructure, well-run government, a trainable workforce, “natural state” lifestyle and plenty of room to grow.

Career opportunities already abound in Arkansas manufacturing. Accountants, engineers, managers, logistics experts, computer technicians, automation specialists, purchasing experts, human resources people, operations personnel, welders and maintenance techs, just to name a few, are all needed, and the pay is good. Advancement opportunities are plentiful, and many companies provide wealth-building investment and retirement plans.

Today’s manufacturing facilities are efficient operations with advanced production technology and often climate control. All are much safer than in years past and offer the satisfaction of producing products customers want, most often in team settings that promote personal pride in a job worth doing.

Manufacturers are stepping up their pay and health benefits as well as education benefits to meet the demands of today’s workforce. Many offer tuition assistance, some are offering child care help, and most are hiring aggressively.

Final thoughts on what we have learned these past couple of years: First, almost everything is essential to somebody. The most mundane items can become critical needs in the right circumstances.

Second, all work is important. Work is the primary source of earned success, which determines our self-esteem. Undermining this reality makes for a big mess. Idle hands are soon up to no good.

Finally, supply chains must shrink and become more resilient. We can ill afford to be held hostage by those who wish to undermine our prosperity at best and destroy us at worst.

Back to the “Coolest Thing Made in Arkansas.” Nominations are due by June 3, so if you, your employer or someone you know has a cool product to submit, go to coolestthinginarkansas.com. Sixteen products will be chosen for the second round of consideration.

This is a great, fun way to spread the word about all the innovative, high-value products made in Arkansas. From chicken wings and rockets, from dimensional lumber to high tensile steel, from lawnmowers to pharmaceuticals, Arkansas-made products are world-class, globally competitive, value-added examples of what a free-market economy can produce to meet mankind’s most basic needs to the most sophisticated and advanced requirements. Coming soon: electric vehicles and advanced mobility.

Randy Zook is president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas.
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