Gov. Asa Hutchinson, seen at the start of his first term as Arkansas governor on Jan. 6, 2015, says he's doing everything possible to assist in the transition of power with Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
KUAR | By Michael Hibblen | Published December 12, 2022 at 9:53 PM CST
With about a month before Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson leaves office, he spoke with KUAR News about his priorities, including what can be done to implement recommendations on the future of mobility in the state. A final report issued last week addressed things that could lay the groundwork for emerging technologies like delivery drones, self-driving cars and space travel.
Hutchinson created the Council on Future Mobility in February, naming Cyrus Sigari to serve as its chairman. Sigari cofounded UP.Partners, a company that has invested in what can seem like futuristic technologies. In an interview Friday, the two shared their thoughts about what can be done next to make Arkansas a leader in the field, including the allocation of funding by the state legislature.
Hutchinson, who leaves office next month, also said he’s working to ensure a smooth transition for Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will be sworn in on Jan. 10. Hutchinson, who is considering a run for president of the U.S., said he expects to make a decision about a White House bid in late January or early February.
BELOW IS AN EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW WITH HUTCHINSON AND SIGARI. LISTEN HERE
KUAR’S MICHAEL HIBBLEN: Technology is changing rapidly when it comes to getting people, goods and commodities around. In an effort to put Arkansas at the forefront, 10 months ago Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Council on Future Mobility. On Thursday, a final report was submitted to the governor, and joining me now to talk about this is Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Thank you for your time.
GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON: Absolutely Michael. It's exciting to talk about Arkansas staying in the lead on mobility and transportation.
And Council Chairman Cyrus Sigari, good to have you as well.
Thanks for having me, look forward to visiting with you about all the great work that the council has done.
Governor, I'll start with you. I was at the Governor's Mansion in February when you announced the creation of this advisory group and had several high-tech vehicles parked outside. This report includes a lot of recommendations. First, did the council achieve the goals that you set?
HUTCHINSON: They exceeded the goals that I set. I read the report — they have put a lot of work into it. They brought in thought leaders, they have academics, but they also have practical business people that lead in transportation. And as you look at the report, the recommendations are very bold — they’re not timid, and that’s the bold kind of innovative leadership and recommendations that we need in the state.
When we started this 10 months ago, a lot of people rolled their eyes and said Arkansas is going to lead in drones and automation, in the transportation of goods, and it surprised people. But in fact, we've been ranked [by the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit at George Mason University] number two in the nation for being a receptive drone delivery state, and so we have led.
This report is just amazing in terms of recommendations on an innovation fund, that we can keep on the cutting-edge of new technologies and help invest in them and help those startup companies. A lot of work is left to be done, but the council has educated Arkansans as to the opportunities from this, and then made some very specific recommendations that will help us to stay in the lead and keep bringing these high-tech jobs to our state.
In terms of these recommendations, this includes things like self-driving vehicles, drones, even space travel. What really sticks out to you as the priorities here?
HUTCHINSON: I think there are two things that are high priorities. One is the innovation fund that, with our reserve funds, we can set up, put $125 million into an Arkansas innovation fund to help our start-up companies. That's going to take some legislative action. You know the second thing, and Cyrus can elaborate on this, but it is exciting to think about Arkansas as a spaceport and to create a Space Port Authority. And people think, well, that's really futuristic, but in fact, Oklahoma has one and other states have it, and this is important for us to be a part of the industry of the future, which is space travel.
So those are just a couple of things, but the other one is the workforce and investing in [Southern Arkansas University] Tech down in south Arkansas. That fuels our workforce for the aerospace industry, that we continue to lead in in terms of our exports. So those are just a couple of things that struck me, but there's many solid recommendations there that we need to act on.
And Mr. Sigari, you are tasked with leading the council. What will it take to make some of these recommendations a reality?
CYRUS SIGARI: Well, it's going to take coming together to work on sort of a common vision and belief that, one, Arkansas already a leader, and that the state needs to continue to invest time, energy and resources to maintain its leadership position and take advantage of some incredible tailwinds that can really increase the quality of life for Arkansans, both in creating high-value, high-paying jobs and providing more mobility solutions to the citizens.
So one is around the legislature. We need to perhaps create some new laws that allow for us to take advantage of some of these bold initiatives like the council has put together, and then we need people to get excited, to go put elbow grease in and start building companies and engaging with the largest customers of these types of products, which are already in the state, companies like Walmart and J.B. Hunt, Tyson and ArcBest, and the entire space and defense ecosystem down in southern Arkansas. One of the things we talked about in the report is: Where does the work community come from? It's common unity, and if we all have a common unity around the state being a leader in this space, something tells me it's going to happen.
You both mentioned the need for legislative action. Governor, you're leaving office next month. Do you think there is the support to enact some of these ideas?
HUTCHINSON: Well, of course the legislators just received the report, but in my conversations with them and briefings with them, there's a high level of excitement and interest in this, and so I expect legislation to be introduced. We'll see how that's shaped, and I know Governor-elect Sanders has been briefed on this as well, and so it's going to take legislative action and I'm anticipating that many of these ideas will be adopted. But we’re setting the stage for it and we're laying it out there and many of the things could be done in the private sector as well. So, a broad array of recommendations will make a difference in Arkansas and I trust the legislature will embrace many of them.
And you mentioned Governor-elect Sarah Sanders. Did she seem receptive to this, or has she had a chance to look at this report yet?
SIGARI: I had the opportunity to sit down with the governor-elect yesterday and walk her through some of the high-level points here, and she seemed to be very receptive and excited. She's got a lot of stuff coming at her as she's getting ready to take over from Gov. Hutchinson and we're excited to continue to educate and work with her to perhaps get some of these initiatives pushed forward.
And Mr. Sigari, we hear about supply chain issues, and most recently we've had congressional action to try and avert a rail strike. What can some of the suggestions in this report do to address problems with the supply chain or worker shortage, those kinds of issues?
SIGARI: The supply chain crisis that the entire world experienced was really a great driver for a lot of the investment and excitement around the world of future mobility. Many of the technologies we're talking about are explicitly supply chain-related — drone deliveries to move things from warehouses to people's backyards — and so at large, you're really talking about an acceleration of investing in these sorts of technologies and adoption by the largest users of these sorts of technologies, which are the largest companies that are based here in the state.
So, I think we're explicitly trying to address one of the largest areas of concern for Americans: to ensure that they get their goods and themselves to where they need to be cleaner, faster, safer and at a lower cost.
And governor, as you are in the final weeks of your two terms in office, you've got a lot of things like this culminating in final reports. You had the Women's Commission [issue a report] earlier in the week. Here in these final weeks, what are your priorities as governor?
HUTCHINSON: To assist everything I can in the transition of Governor-elect Sanders as she takes over. We've had a great eight years, and of course there's a lot of technical things I have to do to actually move out and transition to the private sector, but it's been a wonderful time as governor. It's been the highest honor I've had in public service, and we still continue with our W.I.N.S. [Workforce training, Infrastructure, New economy jobs and Strengthening Arkansas families] initiative — new economy jobs is what this emphasizes; trying to get some infrastructure funding through the General Assembly. But it's coming down to the point that I just really want to see Governor-elect Sanders off to a great start and [I'm] excited about her leadership in the future.
And I would be remiss if I did not ask — of course, you're considering a run for president. How soon do you expect to make a decision about that?
HUTCHINSON: Well, we are looking at that every day, but there's a specific timeline and checkpoints in terms of decision-making, and so you're looking at late January, early February, probably, is a time-frame for a decision. And some of that depends upon how the national [political] climate and how the picture shapes up that I don't have any control on. So we're looking at that and stay tuned.