If businessman and Republican gubernatorial contender Curtis Coleman is elected governor of Arkansas in November 2014, he says that he will encourage the growth of start-up businesses in Southeast Arkansas and the rest of the state as the best path to prosperity for Arkansans.
Coleman sat down for an interview Monday afternoon at the Commercial office and emphasized that his business background will make him an effective leader for Arkansas.
“I am running for governor of the state of Arkansas because I believe this is a time that the state needs a businessman at the helm,” Coleman said. “Instead of making regulations, I have worked under those regulations and know the effects that they have. I believe that Arkansas can be one of the most successful states in the nation.”
Growing Southeast Arkansas
“What we’ve been doing in Southeast Arkansas is not working,” Coleman said. “If you’re born in Phillips County your life expectancy is 10 years less than someone born in northwest Arkansas and that is unacceptable. The literacy rate is higher in Central America than it is in Southeast Arkansas and that is unacceptable.”
Coleman said the mechanization of agriculture in Southeast Arkansas over the past four decades eliminated the need for a vast labor pool of agricultural workers.
“What happened is the region failed to diversify its economy so you had 80,000 people move out of the Fourth Congressional District in the past 10 years,” Coleman said. “We must create jobs all across the state by helping counties build up seed capital funds for new businesses. If we do this then we can keep our college graduates from leaving the state because these new businesses will need employees.”
Coleman said that instead of following the model of trying to attract one large employer that hires 500 employees the economic development entities in the state should focus on fostering the development of hundreds of start-up companies.
“By doing this you can have 5,000 new jobs instead of just 500,” Coleman said.
Coleman said that Arkansas must eliminate what he calls “the most onerous, anti-business, job-unfriendly tax and regulatory codes of any state we touch” in order to bring prosperity to all corners of the state.
Coleman said that businesses that might otherwise locate in Arkansas are being lured to border states such as Texas and Tennessee because of more business-friendly policies in those states.
“While Arkansas has a 7 percent capital gains tax, Texas and Tennessee do not tax capital gains at all,” Coleman said. “Texas and Tennessee also have no state income tax while Arkansas does. Other states that border us are looking to eliminate their state income taxes as well. Arkansas is about to be an island of taxation.”
Coleman said he has a friend who owns an Internet connectivity company that is on its way to becoming one of the top companies in the world.
“He told me that he is considering moving the company to Tennessee,” Coleman said. “He said that he could take an immediate 9 percent off the top of his expenses just by making that move. I begged him to wait until I can get in there and get things done here in Arkansas. I want to be able to work with others to come up with the best business-friendly tax climate for our state.”
Coleman said the state’s education system needs to be dramatically improved.
“We have a shortage of skilled craftsmen and tradesmen in Arkansas,” Coleman said. “When did we lose the sense of dignity that goes with making things with our hands that we still have for those who make things with their minds? We need to bolster such programs in our two year community colleges and we need to put shop back into our high schools.”
Coleman said that the idea of sending all students to a four year college or university is completely unrealistic and fails to take into account the importance of skilled trades in society.
As Mike Ross is the likely front-runner on the Democratic side of the Arkansas governor’s race, Coleman pointed out some differences between himself and the former U. S. Congressman.
“Mike Ross says he will carry on the legacy of Mike Beebe,” Coleman said. “But Gov. Beebe has really been a caretaker governor of this state. If that’s the legacy Ross wants to continue I don’t believe that most Arkansans will agree with him. We need somebody who will push our state forward.”
Coleman said that since 2011 the economies of Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas have all grown far faster than the Arkansas economy.
“I don’t think that’s the legacy Arkansas wants,” Coleman said. “Unlike Mike Ross I have not been in Washington, D. C., making regulations. Instead I have been a businessman trying to survive underneath those regulations.”