The 1949 movie “Adam’s Rib,” starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, is one of my favorite oldies. It was a midcentury look at gender equality, acted out by two married attorneys pitted in a trial against one another. As the Hepburn-wife character begins to get the best of the Tracy-husband character, to her he frustratedly shouts, “I want a wife, not a competitor! Competitor! Competitor!” Classic.
Sorry, Spencer. Competition is a way of life. Sometimes in marriage. Every day in business.
The new year, a year of some uncertainty, but with more hope than despair, may be a good time to look at Arkansas and the state of the state. Competitive advantages and disadvantages will be our measure. We prefix advantages and disadvantages with the word competitive because state-government policies can directly influence factors allowing the private sector to thrive or to simply languish. And those policies can either position a state for growth or create a brand that is a disincentive for economic development and job creation.
Our definitions of competitive advantage include cost, differentiation, brand identity, quality, distribution, intellectual property and customer service. Let’s break those down, keeping in mind we’re talking about Arkansas rather than a company or product.
During the week of Dec. 6, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called a special session of the Legislature to deal primarily with income and corporate tax reductions. The bills presented were a fourth tranche in rate reduction promised by the governor during his 2014 campaign, a vow to mitigate the state’s competitive disadvantage of tax rates higher than our surrounding states. (Oklahoma’s top individual rate will soon be lowered to 4.75%, and its corporate tax rate will decrease to 4%. Louisiana’s top individual rate is going from 6% to 4.25%. And Mississippi policymakers have already discussed reducing their rates in 2022. Texas and Tennessee don’t tax individual income.) When it’s all said and done, Arkansas’ top individual income tax rate will be 4.9%, and the corporate rate will be 5.3%. In 2014, Arkansas’ top individual income tax rate was 7%; corporate was 6.5%.
If the state can continue to generate enough revenue for effective education, human services, environmental protection and public safety, and maintain a reserve fund, then competitive tax rates put us in a position to grow responsibly.
Our brand is “The Natural State.” And we should live up to that by protecting our land, water and air. These resources attract young, educated and enlightened people who want to live and work in a state that values the renewing attributes of our natural heritage. In 1985, Arkansas embarked on a national advertising campaign promoting itself to American business. The key objective was to put Arkansas on the national map. In The Wall Street Journal ad series, one paragraph touted Arkansas’ transportation advantage. “You see, the research folks at Yankelovich, Skelly and White say a first-rate Arkansas transportation system isn’t credible to the nation’s business leaders because many of them don’t know where our state is in the first place.” Location should be a bullet point in national and international promotion.
Arkansas leads the nation in public education’s focus on computer science. That is worthy of notice by forward-looking companies. So, too, is the vast experience Arkansas is gaining in understanding and improving customer-service strategies, as well as ways of engaging with consumers. Consumer spending makes up 70% of the American economy.
Where can we do better? There is no doubt Arkansas must continue to improve in the delivery of physical and mental health care services statewide, critical in a rural state. And we should be laser-focused on pre-K-12 education, postsecondary workforce training, and university-driven research to meet the needs of individual, societal and corporate responsibilities.
As the New Year begins, let’s make sure others know Arkansas is truly a competitor, competitor, competitor!