After the pandemic, employment has rebounded locally almost to 2019 levels, Mark Young, president and CEO of the Northeast Arkansas Industrial Development Corporation, said.
The city is providing NAIDC with $394,750 this year in a contract for economic development services. That includes $167,250 for industrial development and $227,500 for capital improvement obligations.
Making his quarterly report to the city council Tuesday, Young said April unemployment was down to 3.3 percent in Craighead County and more people are making themselves available for work. Between March and April, 907 Craighead County residents went back to work, according to statistics from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.
Jonesboro businesses and industries draw workers from a 12-county region, and after the pandemic began the region’s civilian labor force dropped by 10,000 people. Those 12 counties had a combined unemployment rate of 9.8 percent. By April of this year, the combined unemployment rate sat at 4.4 percent, he said.
“While we’ve made a tremendous increase over the last several months, including this last month, we’re still about 1,000 people short of the total number in the labor force in general,” Young said. “So, obviously, people who have taken early retirement, people who’ve dealt with COVID and other issues related to that, they made decisions to no longer be in the workforce. That’s impacted these numbers, but the numbers are greatly improving and I anticipate they’ll continue to improve in the future.”
2019 was a high water mark for jobs in Jonesboro as the area was cited by Emsi – Electronic Manufacturing Marketing Analytics – as having a 12 percent growth rate from 2014-2019, which was twice the national average.
In April, the Milken Institute ranked Jonesboro 14 among best performing cities with populations under 250,000. The Milken Institute is a nonprofit economic research organization.
During the first three months of this year, one new industrial prospect visited the city and nine others made inquiries, Young said. He said companies have made fewer visits in the past year due to travel restrictions.
Young said his organization also works to retain and help existing companies to expand here.
He noted major expansion projects in the Craighead Technology Park, where Colson Castor and Camfil APC are building new, modern facilities, and Nestle is expanding.
“And each of these companies … had an opportunity to do things in different communities,” Young said of those companies’ decisions to expand in Jonesboro. He said the decisions took several months of work.
“Whether an individual or company is making a $100,000 investment or a $100 million investment, they take it very seriously, so lots of information is gathered, lots of questions are asked, lots of meetings are held and we’re pleased to work with those in partnership and help those come to fruition.”
Young credited Craig Light, the city’s chief engineer, for leading the effort to provide additional rail storage for businesses in the industrial park, which is helping to retain and recruit jobs.
Young said he received a draft of Jonesboro Unlimited’s next four-year strategic plan, which is expected to be released to the public in late July.
“We’re excited about what is in it,” Young said. “A big part of it really builds on the foundation that we had as the first Jonesboro Unlimited Strategic Plan that was initiated almost five years ago.”
That first plan helped recruit almost 4,000 higher paying jobs to the community, he said.
In response to questions, Young said the biggest challenge to recruiting talented workers is competing with other regions that also have a lot of job openings.
“People have lots and lots and lots of opportunities right now, to work anywhere,” Young explained. “To localize that, I think we have to continue to make sure the types of people who we are recruiting that what we’re doing is aligned with our educational institutions and making sure that the students who are coming out of our high schools and wanting to go directly into the workforce, as well as the students coming out of Arkansas State University have opportunities that are here … We want to retain that talent.”
Read the original story on the Jonesboro Sun website here.