ROGERS -- Northwest Arkansas leads the state in business, particularly in its willingness to choose women as top leaders, Gov. Sarah Sanders told a crowd of about 400 at the Economics Arkansas annual Excellence in Free Enterprise awards luncheon in Rogers.
After her speech the governor took questions about pending public safety legislation and plans for tax cuts. About 400 people attended the awards ceremony at the Embassy Suites Convention Center in Rogers. Economics Arkansas supports economics education in Arkansas schools.
No industry faced more challenges through the covid pandemic than supply chain and logistics companies, the governor said. "I'm thankful for the the strong powerhouse of women at J.B. Hunt," Sanders said, referring to the Lowell-based transport company. Shelley Simpson, president of J.B. Hunt, received the group's Free Enterprise Award for this year.
Simpson took over as company president Aug. 1, after serving as the company's chief commercial officer and executive vice president of people and human resources. She started in an entry-level job at the company, according to speakers at the luncheon.
"I accept this award on behalf of 37,000 people, especially the 7,000 who work in Arkansas," Simpson said at the luncheon, referring to J.B. Hunt employees.
"Northwest Arkansas is a model for the rest of the state in business, particularly in women leading business," Sanders said. Sanders is Arkansas' first woman governor. Wednesdays event was her first public appearance in Northwest Arkansas since taking office.
Also honored was May Mileham, master economics teacher at Grace Hill Elementary at Rogers Public Schools. Mileham brought fifth-grade students Kobe Austin, Memphis Booker, Chadley Cruse, Evelyn Jensen and Saxon Libey to the ceremony.
"It's really working, and this is your proof," Mileham said of economics education and her students.
After her speech, the governor praised Arkansas' congressional delegation in the successful effort to bring the Foreign Military Sales Pilot Training Center program to Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith.
"The delegation did an amazing job," she said.
The program will train pilots from Singapore and other countries, accommodating up to 24 foreign Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft and bringing 12 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Singapore Air Force currently based at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz.
On public safety, Sanders said the bill on criminal justice reform is expected to be unveiled to the public "any day." Although a new prison is part of the plan, the bill will include efforts to curb recidivism and crime in the future.
"We have to address capacity," but reducing crime and the prison population in the future will take a multifaceted approach, she said.
"I don't think there's any one thing that will be a silver bullet," she said.
Education and public safety were the leading priorities, but there should also be space in the budget for cuts to the state's income tax, she said.