RECTOR, AR (KAIT) – Jobs, budgets and economic advances in the state were among the many topics discussed by state legislators and possible candidates at the 71st annual Rector Labor Day Parade and Picnic Monday morning. After the parade, which drew thousands of onlookers, local state representatives addressed spectators.
Most residents wanted solutions to the unemployment problem. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 million Americans are out of work, roughly the same number of those unemployed one month ago.
"(People are) concerned about the economy, about jobs, economic development and state budgeting. Those are the things I hear more than anything," said State Senator Robert Thompson.
Thompson said while Arkansas is doing well financially, he still believes caution should be taken.
"We had a $94-million surplus. The economy, as we know, is kind of flat and we've got to carefully budget and make sure that we don't spend more than we take in," said Thompson. "Just like a family budget, the state can't spend more than it takes in. So we have to be careful with that."
Thompson said the state legislature recently approved a measure allowing Governor Mike Beebe to use funds to attract potential businesses by offering incentives.
"We have set aside for the governor a Quick Action Closing Fund that he can use to give incentives to give employers to come in," said Thompson.
Thompson said on the jobs issue, the state is working to improve education, infrastructure and tighten communities.
"It's a multi-state approach. Education is vitally important. Having a well educated workforce is one of the first things employers look for," said Thompson.
Education was also a sentiment echoed by State Representative Mike Patterson. Patterson, who has 14 months before his term limit is reached, said he wants to protect rural schools.
"We need to do everything we can to keep the rural schools, to keep the schools going," said Patterson. "I am not for killing the rural school districts at all. I want to keep them there and keep the superintendents and the principals and the teachers. I think if you look at records from the past, a lot of good grades come from rural schools."
Patterson said he's also tried to help local businesses and industry.
"We voted to give them a tax break on their utility bills, the factories. It wasn't a whole lot of money, but a lot of times a little bit goes a long ways," said Patterson.
Joe Jett was among three people who said they may get into the political realm in the next few years. He said he's considering to run for Patterson's position. The Success resident said he understands the jobs outlook in northeast Arkansas.
"Like here in Corning and Piggott, the Darling closing the factories down, you're talking about several hundred people losing their jobs," said Jett. "That's (education) one of the first things they (employers) look at. They look at the schools and the education and stuff like that for the people coming in here."
The crowd loudly responded to a speech given by Steve Rockwell, who works in his family business. Rockwell, who said he may run for the 1st Congressional District, said he's tired of bickering between parties.
"I'm considering to run for United States Congress and I want to take this message to Washington, that we will not solve America's economic problems by placing more burdens on the backs of hard working, middle-class Americans," said Rockwell. "I'm sick and tired of Congress telling middle-class Arkansans that we're broke and we've got to make do with less."
"I think we can make changes that will create jobs. I think it's important that we put money into infrastructure, and take care of the things we can do right now to create jobs," said Rockwell. "If it's good for the middle-class, it's going to be good for the 1st District of Arkansas, and the state of Arkansas and the country."