MONTICELLO — Over Christmas Eve dinner, Judy Lassiter was talking about her grandmother, who was born in Howard County in 1889 and moved to the Texas panhandle as a newlywed in an ox-drawn wagon. One day, Judy watched her grandmother carefully carry dirty dishwater from the sink to her back porch, where she used it to water her flowers.

“Why don’t you just let it down the drain?” Judy asked.

Her grandmother replied, “If you’ve ever been to the well, you’ll never waste a drop of water.”

Those words were arresting, because earlier that day, I drove past what used to be the Burlington Rug plant, hulking quietly but conspicuously in the center of town, surrounded by a chain-link fence. It used to employ over 1,000 people, but now grass grows in the parking lot.

Like many other great communities in Arkansas, Monticello learned that out-of-state companies can move out as easily as they moved in. The empty Burlington facility is a tangible reminder of what is happening to the U.S. economy as manufacturing jobs are exported to other countries.

Just last Friday, Whirlpool closed its plant in Searcy, leaving over 700 people unemployed and capping a year in which about 8,500 manufacturing jobs were cut in Arkansas. Since 2002, the state has lost almost 10 percent of its manufacturing employment, and economic forecasters expect the trend to continue.

Meanwhile, Arkansas economic development officials still want to spend millions of dollars in subsidies, incentives and tax breaks to convince companies outside the state to locate plants here. The latest effort, to lure a German steelmaker, could cost up to $1 billion for 3,000 jobs.

As many times as we’ve been to the well, you would think we wouldn’t want to waste our water.

With that in mind, the real hope for Arkansas lies in self-sufficiency, which is derived from conservation, fresh thinking and making the most of what you have.

Judy’s husband, Jack Lassiter, is the chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, which is home to the state’s only school of forestry. He said that researchers have discovered that the unused residue of logging is among the most efficient ingredients for biofuels.

Every week seems to bring another such confirmation of how biofuels can be the way forward for Arkansas. They not only provide a ready market for our farmers, who are struggling. They offer an outlet for our other major industries, like timber and poultry, by utilizing their by-products.

Unlike manufacturing, which is clearly in decline in the U.S., biofuels seem poised for a dramatic rise to prominence in the coming years. As the finite supply of oil is depleted and instability in oil-producing nations continues, the price of oil will steadily increase and create demand for an alternative.

There is no state better positioned than Arkansas to meet that demand. Not only can we provide the necessary ingredients and make the fuel, but our location in the center of the country, along major supply routes and the Mississippi River, eases distribution.

Knowing this great opportunity is on the horizon, it only makes sense to prepare for it. We need a work force trained not only for the biofuels sector, but for the administrative and service industries necessary to support it. That means adequately funded public schools, and a strategic plan for the state’s vocational schools, community colleges and four-year universities.

Anticipating growth also means a renewed focus on rural health care services, which have been allowed to slowly deteriorate, along with transportation infrastructure.

This sounds like an unoriginal laundry list of what competes for funding every year, but that’s the point.

Often, what keeps us from achieving these obvious statewide objectives is selfish attachment to local interests, like keeping a particular school open or insisting on good roads in one part of the state instead of another. But if an objective panel of experts enumerated the things we need to do to become the leader in the development of biofuels, people might be willing to lay aside their parochial considerations and do what it takes to achieve the larger goal.

From the research lab to the field, from the refining to the distribution — not to mention all of the supporting industries — every part of Arkansas is sure to benefit from biofuels. Therefore, a step-by-step approach to fulfill that potential may be the one sure way to unite the state around a series of concrete goals for education, health care and transportation.

It would be the Arkansas version of the race to the moon: An extravagant but practical goal that inspires hope by setting it; a call for sacrifice and cooperation in service to the greater good, with innumerable benefits that accrue to future generations.

There are so many places around the state like Monticello that have a lot to offer, and they deserve this opportunity. Let’s not spill a single drop.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Fort Smith mosque vandalized

    Fort Smith's Al Salam mosque was vandalized Thursday morning.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • The open line and headlines

    Here's the Thursday open line and mid-afternoon news roundup.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Kochs spread money around Arkansas

    The Koch Industries PAC spread a lot of money around in September, including significant sums in state legislative races around the country. All politics is local when you have a big polluting industry to look after.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge opens veterinary clinic

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge opens veterinary clinic

Eureka Springs non-profit will provide on-site veterinary care to its more than 60 exotic and native large animals.

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Arkansas 2016: the microclimate election

    In the lead-up to the past four Arkansas election cycles, the forecast has been a fairly simple one: strong winds blowing in the GOP direction.
  • The big loser

    So now the big crybaby says he's losing because his opponent is crooked and the referees are blind.
  • Trumped in Arkansas

    After two solid debates and the release of a video and corroborating testimony that further confirmed the misogyny of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is favored to win the presidential election Nov. 8

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The big loser

    • Ah, yes, Trump the loser - yes, we know all that. But what bothers me…

    • on October 20, 2016
  • Re: Trumped in Arkansas

    • You lump the convict Jim Guy Tucker in with men like Clinton, Fulbright, Rockefeller, Bumpers…

    • on October 20, 2016
  • Re: The big loser

    • I hope you're right, but it only takes one nut with a gun and a…

    • on October 20, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation