As Business Grows in Walnut Ridge, Housing Struggles to Keep Up

by Graycen Colbert Bigger  on Friday, Jul. 14, 2017 6:55 am   2 min read

Charles Snapp, mayor of Walnut Ridge (Kate Knable)

The arrival of large-scale employers like Peco Foods Inc., Allegis Corp. and American Silica has brought an economic boom to rural communities in northeast Arkansas. But housing has struggled to keep pace with the influx of business and population. 

Walnut Ridge, whose population grew to 5,340 following the Jan. 1 annexation of College City, is at the center of the shortage. According to Mayor Charles Snapp, the municipality has seen its population rise by more than a 10 percent since 2015. The local unemployment rate, at 3.2 percent in May, is below the state and national average. Sales tax revenue has also increased over the past year, totaling $69,826 in June. 

But a shortage of housing is causing many local businesses to put future development plans on hold. 

Snapp said that Peco still needs to hire 200-300 employees for its planned expansion, while Custom Pak has been operating between 25 and 50 employees short for over a year.   

"It's a good problem to have," Snapp said. "It's a mayor's dream to have more jobs than people to fill them, but it is still a problem."  

Some area employers are providing shuttles to larger cities like Paragould as a short-term solution, but a high percentage of the workforce must commute.  

"People will drive 25 miles, sometimes 40 miles or more from as far away as Doniphan, Missouri, to get to work," Snapp said. "Transportation is a big expense for individuals, and it takes a lot of time from people's families, which causes high turnover.  

"From the city's standpoint, we know towns don't benefit at the same level with a high volume of transient employees." 

Walnut Ridge averaged six building permits annually between 2001 and 2010, all of which were designated for single-family homes. More than 30 residential permits have been issued in 2017 so far. While most are for single-family homes, several multi-family units ranging from duplexes to six-plexes are being produced.  

A new subdivision with 32 available lots is also slated to begin construction in late August.  

Though Snapp remains optimistic about the increase in local housing, he said the city is still not meeting the required volume to keep up with workforce demands.  

"It is up to us to try to get the word out so investors will take a closer look at the area's potential," he said. "We may have been stagnant for decades, but the return on investment is here now."



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