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Investment, Regional Partnerships Key to Becoming Mobility Leader, Report Says

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Arkansas’ path to becoming a leader in advanced mobility begins with creating an ecosystem that encourages more public and private investment in the industry, the Governor’s Council on Future Mobility said in a report released Thursday.

To achieve that, the council recommends that Arkansas-based funds, pensions, foundations and endowments explore establishing a private equity allocation toward making direct investments in the state’s technology sector.

It also recommends that the state get the ball rolling through a state innovation fund that would have a target of $250 million, half of which would come from the state’s billion-dollar surplus. Israel’s state Innovation Authority, which has helped Israel become the world leader in startups per capita, was cited as a model to follow. Arkansas already has a partnership with the agency to promote cooperation on research and development.

Promoting and securing investment was one of six major recommendations issued by the 17-person council, comprised of some of the state’s top leaders in transportation and mobility. The other key recommendations are:

  • Enhance educational and workforce development programs to best position residents of Arkansas for new job opportunities that will be generated
  • Establish a government office focused on advanced mobility and its long-term economic contributions to the state
  • Through media and events, create awareness, excitement and engagement that results in meaningful relationships, collaboration and advocacy
  • Increase partnerships with neighboring states and create a regional mobility “super hub” in the Heartland
  • Implement forward-thinking and comprehensive policies that support and facilitate the development of electrification and advanced mobility

Successfully implementing those measures could get Arkansas a larger piece of a $10 trillion annual industry, help reduce carbon emissions and build a “new future not only for the state, but the region and perhaps the entire country,” said Cyrus Sigari, chair of the commission and co-founder of the venture capital firm Up Partners.

The 90-page report offers guidance on a broad range of sub-sectors in transportation, from micromobility (electric scooters and bicycles) to advanced air mobility (drones and transformational aircraft) to autonomous vehicles.

“The majority of both the commercial drone and advanced aerial mobility markets remain in the United States,” the report says. “If the U.S. share stays consistent in each of these markets, the domestic opportunity will be worth over $190 billion in drones and over $17 billion in AAM. Arkansas is primed to host a significant share of this opportunity.”

More: Read the full report here.

On the policy side, the report recommends restrictions on the use of state funds to purchase drones and other transportation technology with strong ties to China; the appointment of a non-government industry expert as Chief Futurist for the state; and removing or adjusting restrictive statewide vehicle specifications and fees, such as the state’s $200 annual registration fee for electric vehicles.

The report calls for a feasibility study on the impact of dedicated highway lanes for self-driving vehicles, which it predicts “will likely lead to a once-in-a-century transformation of our transportation system and our communities.”

The report also looks beyond land and air. It looks to the stars, recommending the creation of the Arkansas Space Authority and a feasibility study on the creation of a spaceport. In a $1 trillion industry, only 10 states currently have a federally-certified spaceport that can support launch activities.

“We have to have a piece of that,” Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said in a news conference at the State Capitol. “We have to have a piece of that $1 trillion space exploration. Why not Arkansas? I think this report allows us to look at that, figure out what is exactly right for Arkansas and how we move forward on that.”

The state has already made progress in several key areas since Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the council in February. In March, Arkansas announced a partnership with Louisiana and Oklahoma to create a regional hub for the development of clean hydrogen energy. Over the summer, it drew hundreds of global transportation leaders to Bentonville for the UP.Summit, and the University of Arkansas announced a major smart mobility initiative.

Hutchinson, who is in the final month of his term-limited time in office, has also signed an agreement with Oklahoma to create a “super region” for advanced mobility and approved a $54 million plan to use federal funds to build the state’s electric vehicle infrastructure.

The Republican governor acknowledged Thursday that the Future Mobility Council’s report contains “some bold ideas.” But he told news conference attendees, including state lawmakers, that he hopes they embrace those ideas.

“It’s up to you,” he said. “You carry the ball now.”

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