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State Capitol in review - April 9, 2014

Last Thursday, $54.3 million in state aid was authorized to go for building projects in 54 Arkansas school districts. The new funding puts the state well over the $1 billion mark in state money provided to school districts for repair, expansion and construction of facilities since 2006.

The amount of state aid for building projects is determined in part by a school district’s property tax wealth. The state pays a smaller percentage toward the cost of a school project in districts with greater local resources than it does in a district with relatively less in local resources.

Several good news items in Arkansas have been reported.

The unemployment rate is slightly down. Auto registrations in Arkansas jumped 86 percent in February compared with same month last year. The February total of 12,308 new vehicle registrations was the second highest number since Cross Sell started reporting the statistics in 2008.

The Northwest Arkansas Technical Institute diesel technology program has not been able to keep up with the demand for workers. A master instructor estimated that demand for workers is so high that there are no applicants for two-thirds of the job requests that come to the school. Currently, the school has room for about 40 students in its 18 month diesel program, but they said they were still not graduating enough to satisfy employer requests for workers. Nationally, the industry faces a shortage of qualified diesel mechanics because of an aging workforce. Additional need is being created by technology and emissions innovations that lead to positions for younger, tech-savvy workers. This might be a career that some new high school grads might consider.

The state agriculture department promotes Arkansas products in domestic and international markets, and helps ensure that farm, fiber and forestry products are safe. A relatively new effort of the department promotes products grown in Arkansas. Small growers can apply to the department’s marketing division for the right to place “Arkansas Grown” labels on their products. The labels are distinctive, and help consumers easily identify local grown products.

For an additional fee, the department will help growers market their products on social media and in traditional media. The department’s web site is www.arkansasgrown.org and also lists Arkansas restaurants that prepare locally grown food. and has a map that locates all the farmers’ markets in the state.

The Parks and Tourism Department publishes a 27-page brochure on agritourism that is also available online. It is a concise yet thorough summary of the economy, geography and culture of Arkansas. It is known that Arkansas produces soybeans in abundance but most people are not aware that Arkansas also has the nation’s only edamame production facility and there is even an Edamame Festival in Mulberry. Arkansas was recently classified as a peanut producing state by the U.S. Agriculture Department. That means an Arkansas representative will sit on the National Peanut Board and have a voice in national policies. Agriculture contributed $17 billion to the Arkansas economy last year and one in six Arkansas jobs is in agriculture.

If you would like to contact me, email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov or call the office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 1876, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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