Mission Critical: State Chamber Boss Talks Straight About Issues Facing Business

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Money and Politics) -- There’s no quicker route to the truth than through Randy Zook’s office at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

As President and CEO of the organization, he’s a wellhead of information and anecdotes about what’s going on in the state’s business community from one end to the other. Not only that, he’s committed to the cause of economic progress in the Natural State, enough to call things like he sees them.

“We are doing some very good things [but] facts can be brutal,” he says, flatly. “You have to start with the facts, and the facts are that we have enormous room to improve.”

Zook is no mere curmudgeon; he’s quick to point out that Arkansas’ economy is enjoying a spate of prosperity and optimism it hasn’t seen in a while. He readily hands out credit to the governor and state legislators who have helped make this happen. He shares at will the numerous individual success stories of companies statewide doing interesting, innovative things.

But all that doesn’t undo the systemic issues rotting the state’s current and future workforce from within and fundamentally crippling Arkansas’ ability to attract people from elsewhere. As much as lower taxes or access to capital, education is what will determine whether Arkansas business realizes its potential, says Zook.

“The fundamental, significant improvement we need is better performance by the public school system, the K-12 system,” Zook says. “The K-12 system in many parts of Arkansas is simply not doing an adequate job of educating our children. This is widespread across the state.

“There are many really fine, excellent, high-performing school districts,” he adds. “But there are way too many — I hate to use the word failing, but it’s hard not to — low-performing, inadequate results being achieved in many school districts. That needs to change and change quickly.”

Click the link to read the full Arkansas Money and Politics article.

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