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Arkansas is seeking to reinvent itself as a knowledge-based economy. This transformation continues the state’s longstanding efforts to adapt to changing economic conditions. When the post-World War II automation of agriculture displaced much of the state’s predominantly agrarian work force, the state succeeded in attracting manufacturing industries based on Arkansas’ low wages and favorable business climate. When these industries began moving offshore in the 1970s, the state experienced a steady erosion of manufacturing jobs that continues to the present day. Arkansas began building the infrastructure for technology-based economic development in the 1980s. Recognizing the growing importance of knowledge-based industries, Arkansas’ leaders are once again taking steps to secure their future economic growth.

To review the states recent initiatives to develop a knowledge-based economy, the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) and University of Arkansas at Little Rock convened a conference on Building the Arkansas Innovation Economy. Held at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, the conference drew Arkansas business, political, and academic leaders along with senior U.S. government officials and national experts to highlight the accomplishments and growth of the innovation ecosystem in Arkansas, while also identifying needs, challenges, and opportunities. The participants at this conference discussed a series of proposed initiatives to strengthen Arkansas’ innovation and technology infrastructure and identified areas where federal, state, and foundation contributions could generate positive synergies.

As this report of the conference documents, Arkansas’ business, academic and government leaders recognize the economic and technological challenges confronting the state. They have studied successful economic and research programs in other states and drawn on national experts to develop strategic plans to promote economic growth and – in recent years – to enhance the state’s standing in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. Arkansas benefits from homegrown entrepreneurial ingenuity and pluck, its reputation as a highly pro-business state, strong transportation links, and a geographic location in the center of the North American market.

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