Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin touted the role the military plays in the state economy on a trip to Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith on Tuesday.
The Western Arkansas Military Community Council held its second membership meeting at the facility Tuesday. Griffin was the keynote speaker. Representatives from the 188th Wing and the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center were present in support of the council's efforts to promote military units in Arkansas, a news release states.
Griffin said after the meeting he is a member of the Governor’s Military Affairs Committee, which had studies done on the state and the impact of the defense industry and veterans in the state.
"I came here to brief on that, to talk about some opportunities that we have, some challenges that we have and how we can work together better so that we can sustain the jobs we have that are related to military, but also grow them, get more," Griffin said.
When asked about the economic impact of the military in Arkansas, Griffin said there are about 63,000 jobs in the state, including about 3,600 jobs in this area of the state.
"I think we need to grow that based on the population ... based on the location and the river access, Fort Chaffee, the air base," Griffin said. "All these different components provide opportunity to grow our military footprint, and that means growing jobs, helping national security, and it's not just jobs. It's a lot of high-tech jobs, which is the type of jobs we need, and also it helps feed talent into the private sector."
One of the facts that the firms conducting the study focused on, Griffin said, is the mission of the 188th Wing, which is now very modern, forward-leaning and high-tech, one that is only going to grow in importance in the coming years. Griffin saw that fact as an opportunity because it can be built upon.
"Right now, we do not have launch and recovery capability for the RPAs (Remotely Piloted Aircraft), but that's an area where there is opportunity. So we can increase what we do in terms of the RPA role that we currently play with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but also we can expand ... the footprint here by having the RPAs physically here," Griffin said. "We can launch them from here, and have recovery of them here."
The massive, underused land area at the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center presents an opportunity for training, Griffin said.
"I've made the point here today that this is, potentially, a world-class training facility not just for the Guard, but for the Guard, the Reserves, and this is the sort of training facility that the active-duty component should be interested in," Griffin said. "... It's something that ... I think brings a lot of opportunity, but we've got to make it known to the armed forces, particularly the Army."
In regard to what he will do to move forward with what he talked about, Griffin said he will continue to support community groups around the state, such as the Western Arkansas Military Community Council, that are working on these issues. He will also continue to speak out publicly about the importance of the military, as well as work with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others in his administration to adopt policies that make Arkansas more attractive for veterans, members of the military and industry, particularly high-tech industry. A big focus for Griffin as lieutenant governor is promoting STEM education for young people.
The Western Arkansas Military Community Council is a nonprofit organization that supports military units based in western Arkansas, a news release states. This includes the 188th Wing, the 142nd Field Artillery Regiment and the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center.
Mike Barr, board chairman for the council, said the council is member-driven.
"So right now, we're pushing for members, but right now, it's community leaders, corporations, retired military that are banding together with us to create the community support that we need," Barr said.