This year, GEW Arkansas saw an impressive turn out from policymakers. Conversations with Governor Asa Hutchinson, Congressman Steve Womack and Congressman French Hill provided a picture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the state and what sets Arkansas apart as an ecosystem. Hutchinson, Womack and Hill spoke to the assets Arkansas offers for entrepreneurs and what policies and initiatives that have been recently implemented to improve the environment for entrepreneurs in the state.
Governor Hutchinson pointed out that Arkansas has micro-hubs of technology and it is important for those hubs to showcase the opportunities available there. Talent is a crucial part of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and Hutchinson acknowledges that attracting talent and producing it at home is a priority. During the Governor’s time in office, he has implemented the Arkansas Computer Science Initiative to improve the talent pipeline in the state.
In addition to retaining homegrown talent, there is the need to attract diverse talent to micro-hubs statewide. Having available jobs is not enough to attract well-educated, diverse talent – many candidates are looking for communities that are affordable, have entertainment and culture, and overall high quality of life. Congressman Womack emphasized that Arkansas needs to ensure their cities have the qualities that make people want to move to and live in there.
Congressman Hill also spoke about access to capital and additional resources for entrepreneurs. Most capital goes to startups on the east and west coast leaving out innovation in flyover states. Arkansas has focused on building an angel investor network and providing mentorship to entrepreneurs to help them network and form connections that could lead to capital infusions. COVID-19 has complicated access to capital for entrepreneurs everywhere. Many entrepreneurs relied on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to keep them afloat this year, and many are hoping for another round as the pandemic drags on and continues to impact their businesses. Hill and Womack both spoke about hoping to extend more PPP to entrepreneurs in need. Congressman Womack also pointed out that PPP exposed more people to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the resources they provide, when before they were not familiar with the agency and its resources for small businesses. COVID-19 has also forced many businesses to pivot to a virtual format. This pivot is further complicated in communities where there isn’t reliable access to internet. Congressman Hill spoke about working with Governor Hutchinson on expanding access to Internet by using CARES Act dollars to implement better broadband statewide.
Watch the sessions with each policymaker on the Conductor Facebook page.