Several years ago I had a friend who went to Bangkok for a year. When she returned she had a few new moles on her skin. It wasn't uncommon she said. Many of the people in Bangkok have excessive moles because of the pollutants in the air — everything from mercury to lead.
Thailand is a poor country and so they are willing to welcome any business that will employ their people and boost their tax base; even if those businesses are often ones that are banned from operating (or at least operating like they want to) in the United States. Thailand is willing to exchange the long term health and development of their people for a short term boost to their economy.
I often think about Thailand as I listen to the so-called economic developers who are pushing for Arkansas to allow SWEPCO to build a coal burning power plant in Hempstead County. At the same time that many in Congress and prominent NASA scientists are calling for a moratorium on coal burning power plants, Arkansans are about to greet a new one in our southwest corner.
We weren't, of course, SWEPCO's first choice. They tried to place their plant on nine other sites before they settled on Hempstead County. The residents and governments of all of the other potential sites before Hempstead County understandably said, “no thanks.” They understood that the whole reason for building the plant now is to get it grandfathered in under any new bills that would ban this increasingly antiquated form of power generation.
In welcoming a new coal burning power plant and other polluting technologies of the industrial age, Arkansas is acting not unlike Thailand or any other Third World country. We are accepting a dirty industry that other states don't want, in order to provide a few jobs and increase our tax base. But the problem with Third World economics is that it keeps you Third World. People who are on the cutting edge of new technologies, new businesses, and industries with a future don't want to live in the wasteland of the old economy.
Arkansas doesn't need to accept the rejected industries of other states. We need to create an attitude toward business, industry and innovation that will point us toward the future. At the same time that the state has been discussing the SWEPCO plant, a Danish owned windmill blade factory was built in Little Rock that will employ over a thousand people in five years, far more than SWEPCO. This is an industry with a future and Arkansas needs to work hard to attract more such industries to the state.
Governor Beebe has worked hard to bring more jobs to Arkansas and to keep college graduates here. This is why it makes sense for the state to ban the construction of new coal burning power plants. More dirty industries are only going to perpetuate a dynamic that encourages the best and brightest to leave but keeps many of those who stay stuck in the cycles of a depressed economy.
Sutterfield is a writer, business consultant and farmer who lives in Little Rock.