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Much like anywhere, business influences daily life and dominates water cooler conversation in central Arkansas. And since the parent firms of more than 100 Fortune 500 companies have approximately 310 facilities in Arkansas, there’s plenty to talk about. If you’re about to move to here, or just thinking about it, current business related issues will give you insight into the region. Use the following topics to form your own opinions about the area, and once you’re here, you’ll not only have the foundation you need to ask informed questions, but also have an understanding of the inner workings and how they’ll affect you.

Industry

Aerospace Totaling more than $1 billion in annual exports, the aerospace industry holds the title of the largest export industry in Arkansas, which ranks 11th among all states in aerospace exports. Lockheed Martin, Hawker Beechcraft and other companies produce goods for the commercial, private aviation and defense sectors. At Dassault Falcon Jet’s Little Rock business jet completion center, the company’s largest facility in the world, employees build interiors for jets manufactured overseas by its French parent company.

Wind Energy Since 2007, several global wind energy businesses opened major operations in central Arkansas. LM Glasfiber, a Danish manufacturer of windmill blades, came first with a major plant and its North American headquarters. The company makes blades that can be up to 200 feet long, and you’ll commonly see them being trucked down local freeways. Several other wind energy companies followed LM Glasfiber, attracted to the area’s proximity to Texas, a state with plenty of wind power waiting to be harnessed.

Hewlett-Packard Hewlett-Packard recently opened a customer service and technical support center in Conway, with plans to employ up to 1,200 people.

Job & Housing Markets

With a 6.8 percent unemployment rate, central Arkansas is among the top-performing U.S. markets in the wake of the economic recession. A burgeoning business climate and regional growth are factors in the area’s ability to sustain. A state law that prohibits the Arkansas government from spending more money than it collects also helped. In fact, Arkansas is one of only six states without a budget deficit, and the state has the fifth-lowest debt-to-GDP ratio. The standing has uniquely positioned the state to advance itself with the federal stimulus money it received.

The region’s housing market has outperformed the national norm, as homes in central Arkansas have held a respectable amount of their value. In fact, central Arkansas home prices — with a median price of $134,600 — are actually still appreciating. In 2009, while the recession continued to claim foreclosure victims and diminish home values across the country, central Arkansas saw prices appreciate about half a percent, part of the reason the region made Forbes’ list of the top 25 strongest housing markets in the U.S. This resilience can be credited to conservative growth during the national housing boom that contributed to the major housing market crashes in many cities.

Top Regional Job Prospects

(Largest industries in central Arkansas with the largest employers in these industries.)

Health care, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Telecommunications. Verizon Corporation

Aircraft manufacturing, Dassault Falcon Jet Corporation

Data processing, Acxiom Corporation

Government

Education Arkansas is recognized as having the best advanced placement courses and completion in the country and is also a model in pre-kindergarten education for at-risk youth. In central Arkansas, charter schools are catching on in popularity, the most recognized being the E-Stem Public Charter Schools in downtown Little Rock. And just 30 minutes southwest of central Arkansas, in Hot Springs, the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science & the Arts consistently ranks among the top 1 percent of schools in the nation. This school, which is a residential public high school for academically advanced juniors and seniors, was one of the first of its kind in the United States.

Lottery & Gambling In 2009, voters elected to have a state lottery with proceeds devoted to scholarships for Arkansas students attending Arkansas colleges and universities. This marked a major shift, as such a lottery was illegal under the state constitution. In its first year, the lottery funded approximately $132 million in scholarships for about 30,000 students.

Debates continue about whether gambling should be expanded. Recent issues included whether to place 100 lottery vending machines in retail outlets across the state and whether to allow casino gambling in seven Arkansas counties. Other gambling establishments already exist in the state however. Oaklawn Jockey Club, a thoroughbred track in Hot Springs, and Southland Park, a greyhound track in West Memphis, recently added electronic games like video poker and video blackjack.

Local Development

Within the past 30 years, the City of Little Rock has doubled in size, with projections to double again during the next 20 years – which is why the Chamber of Commerce touts Little Rock as one of the top 15 aggressive development markets in the nation.

Other indications of growth, beyond population and development, include the radical improvements made to downtown Little Rock. The area known as the River Market District — an area along President Clinton Avenue full of restaurants, nightspots, art galleries, museums and more — used to be filled with old warehouses. Updates to neighboring hotels provided the accommodations for tourists who began flocking to the district for its activities and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Library, built in 2004. And now downtown redevelopment plans have a new frontier: Main Street. Much of the area is owned by financier Warren Stephens, who owns Stephens Inc., the largest investment bank off of Wall Street.

Stay Informed

Once you’re here, you can keep up-to-date on current events with Arkansas Business, a weekly publication filled with the inside scoop on all things business. Visit Store.ArkansasBusiness.com to subscribe or scope them out at ArkansasBusiness.com.