Why Arkansas Ranks So High
Bill Clinton hasn't called it the Arkansas Miracle, but his Razorback economy sits near the top in U.S. News's exclusive state-by-state rankings. Despite the painful U.S. recession, Clinton's Arkansas has led the nation in job growth and home-price appreciation over the past year. And for the 12 months ending in March, Arkansas's real per capita income grew 1.7 percent, the eighth-best performance among all the states.
Winning business. One key reason for Arkansas's strong economic standing is its success in boosting manufacturing investment. Using the available data, John Shelnutt, an economist with the Arkansas Institute for Economic Advancement, has calculated that from 1989 to 1991, the state attracted more new and expanded plant investment per citizen than any of its neighbors, a total of $3.5 billion. Shelnutt gives some of the credit to Clinton's Arkansas Industrial Development Commission for "going out and getting prospects; doing the dirty work to get companies here."
But other reasons for the state's strength have nothing to do with who sits in the Little Rock Statehouse. Incomes in Arkansas are the fourth lowest in the nation and homes are among the cheapest, giving the state a cost advantage and a low base from which to grow. In addition, Arkansas has the good fortune of hosting the nation's largest poultry processor, Tyson Foods, at a time when chicken consumption is soaring.
Arkansas also uses a whole range of goodies to entice employers to the state, including tax exemptions, bond financing and state-paid worker training. But John Correnti, president of Nucor, says that before his company built two steel mills in Arkansas, it was offered equally generous incentives from a number of states. The difference, says Correnti, was Bill Clinton's speed. As soon as Nucor expressed an interest in building a mill on the Mississippi River in 1986, says Correnti, Clinton was on a plane to Nucor headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., where he "told us what he could do, what he couldn't do, and then he went and got it done." The second mill, which started rolling steel just last month, brings Nucor's investment in Arkansas to nearly $1 billion. Clinton's attention to Nucor has also earned him a vote. "And I'll tell you one thing," says Correnti, "he'll be the first Democrat I've ever voted for."
This story appears in the September 14, 1992 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.