A Strategic Location
Arkansas has always been recognized for its strategic location in the middle of the country. Approximately halfway between Mexico City and Montreal, Arkansas offers access to a market of 100 million people within a 550-mile radius of the state – about 40 percent of the total U.S. population. This prime location, along with an extensive transportation network combining roads, rail and waterways, makes the state ideally suited to meet the needs of business and provides easy access to U.S. markets around the world. Highlights include 1,860 miles of navigable waterways, 1,683 miles of Class I railroads and 16,416 miles of state and U.S. highways at the disposal of Arkansas’ more than 6,800 transportation, logistics and distribution companies, including homegrown Fortune 500 company J.B. Hunt Transportation Services.
A Strategic Workforce
Image courtesy of Arkansas Waterways Commission.
Arkansas leaders realized the importance of the supply chain years ago and began preparing a workforce to meet today’s needs. It starts in the state’s schools, where middle schoolers learn to code, and high-school students are required to earn at least one credit in a computer science class before graduating. Choices include classes such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, computer engineering, cybersecurity, data science, programming, robotics and even game development and design. The goal is to adequately prepare students not just for college, but also for entry-level jobs that don’t require higher education.
Those students who do attend college in Arkansas can attend one of the four universities that offer supply chain management degrees – Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
The University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business has consistently been ranked in the top in the country for supply chain management by leading global research firm Gartner. J.B. Hunt, one of the largest supply chain solution providers in North America, announced a collaboration with the university in August 2023 when the department was named the J.B. Hunt Department of Supply Chain Management.
“J.B. Hunt and the University of Arkansas are shaping the future of the supply chain, not just in Northwest Arkansas, but across the country,” said Shelley Simpson, president of J.B. Hunt, at the announcement. “Together, we are preparing future leaders who will grow with the industry to meet evolving supply chain challenges. This will help us achieve our mission of creating the most efficient transportation network in North America, and ultimately the world.”
The university recently hosted the fifth-annual WISE Future Leaders Symposium, which celebrated female pioneers in supply chain management. WISE stands for “Women Impacting Supply Chain Excellence,” and approximately 135 students and faculty from 28 universities attended the event.
The Arkansas Economic Development Commission works to help the state’s existing businesses of all sizes conquer potential supply chain disruptions. The AEDC Manufacturing Solutions team offers a “Healthy Supply Chain Playbook” that helps business develop a plan to minimize supply chain disruptions by addressing supply chain misconceptions, strategic sourcing, high-impact supply chains and potential risks.
The spirit of collaboration is felt across Arkansas as businesses help each other. Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Arkansas-based Fortune 500 company Tyson Foods, held a pitch event over the summer to seek startups focused on sustainability within the food and beverage industry. Fifteen startups applied for the event and four were selected. Tyson has invested more than $100 million in emerging proteins, new technologies for foods, workers and sustainable food production since 2016.
Bounds Accelerator, a new startup launched by the University of Arkansas and Cartwheel Startup Studio, selects up to 10 technology companies, including at least three Arkansas startups, to address issues found in the retail, transportation, logistics, manufacturing and supply chain industries. During the 16-week program, entrepreneurs will meet industry leaders, investors, tech experts and business mentors as they compete for a cash award.
Fuel Accelerator is a 12-week enterprise-ready accelerator that matches seed and growth-stage tech startups with key enterprise partners to accelerate the adoption of tangible technology solutions. Bentonville’s Ox (which is an abbreviation for “operator experience”), founded by Charu Thomas, uses artificial intelligence and wearable devices to increase efficiencies in supply chain operations. A graduate of Georgia Tech, Thomas was part of Fuel Accelerator’s first cohort and subsequently found her home in Arkansas. Her “human-centered automation across the supply chain” device works with supply-chain software to increase efficiency while improving the job satisfaction rates of warehouse employees.
“I would not expect [Ox] to come out of Los Angeles or New York. It has to be born out of Bentonville,” Michael Palank, general partner at MaC VC, told Arkansas Business magazine. “People talk about supply chain, logistics, and retail here. This is what people nerd out on. This is the place.”
It was certainly the place for Dan Sanker, who opened CaseStack in California in 1999. CaseStack consolidates clients’ products into a network of deliveries heading to the same distribution center, store, or warehouse. Less than a decade later, Sanker discovered that Fayetteville, Arkansas had everything he needed to succeed – geographic location and proximity to an abundance of retailers, suppliers, and logistics companies as well as the University of Arkansas. It doesn’t hurt that Arkansas has an enviable business climate.
“When you’re a business in Arkansas,” Sanker said, “you get attention and cooperation and a collaborative environment with the state, the university system, and the local government, that you just can’t get in a big city.”
It’s the small-town feel with big-city amenities that contribute to the moniker “The Natural State.” The state’s many recreational opportunities and natural landscape provide a one-of-a-kind quality of life as well as opportunities for businesses in the state’s vast system of commercially navigable waterways that contribute to supply chain reliability.
Direct Access to the World
Image courtesy of Arkansas Waterways Commission.
Every county in Arkansas is located within 65 miles of one of the five commercially navigable rivers (Arkansas, Mississippi, Ouachita, White, and Red) in Arkansas that reach into every region of the state, providing direct access to the great Mississippi River System and international ports. Because Arkansas’ rivers remain ice-free throughout the winter, they provide year-round navigation and make it easier for Arkansas businesses to reach customers throughout the world.
Waterborne transportation is fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. Reduced transportation costs lower the sales prices of commodities shipped by water. The lowered price of commodities then creates a larger market, and the growth of that market triggers additional production, more jobs, and more income. The transportation cost savings sales impact of waterborne commerce in Arkansas is nearly $1 billion per year.
“Arkansas’ extensive inventory of commercially navigable waterways ranks the state third in the nation for its vast network of river miles, surpassed only by Alaska and Louisiana. These waterways form a critical portion of the nation’s transportation infrastructure, encompassing a staggering 25,000 miles of navigable routes. The U.S. inland waterways system consists of 12,000 of these miles divided among four different systems.”
Arkansas’ public ports are home to more than 125 industries and account for more than 12,500 jobs. In 2022, over 15 million tons of goods valued at more than $5 billion traversed Arkansas’ navigable waterways.
Cargo movement is facilitated by a substantial system of public and private ports. Public port authorities have been established in Fort Smith, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Camden, Crossett, Newport, Osceola, Helena-West Helena, West Memphis and Yellow Bend (Chicot and Desha Counties near McGehee) with over 12,000 total acres of real estate. Yellow Bend is the southernmost port on the Mississippi River and is only two to three travel days from the seaports of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
When it comes to building and developing supply chain talent, Arkansas has the resources new and growing companies need to succeed. The state has consistently lowered taxes during each fiscal legislative session and has removed bureaucratic red tape to make the state more competitive. For more information about talent and other benefits of doing business in Arkansas, visit www.ArkansasEDC.com or call 1-800-ARKANSAS. T&ID