Community Health Merger Shuffles Up Employers List

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Jan. 28, 2008 12:00 am  

(Click here for a PDF list of the state's largest employers. A spreadsheet version is available here.)

In a swelling Arkansas labor pool, some of the larger employers are growing steadily while others, especially manufacturers, are hemorrhaging staff.

State government, with 52,938 state employees, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, with 46,815 state employees, maintained their commanding leads, both more than doubling any other employer on this year's list of Arkansas' largest employers. Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, with 22,739 employees in Arkansas, and the federal government, 20,700 employees in the state, are the only employers that come close to the top two giants.

Every other employer in the state is well under 10,000. Georgia-Pacific LLC of Atlanta has seen a 16.7 percent increase in staff, gaining 500 since last year's list, and Arvest Bank Group Inc. of Bentonville has grown by 358 employees, a 12.8 percent jump.

The most notable industry downsize has occurred in manufacturing. Over the past year, 8,300 jobs have disappeared because of "multiple layoffs and closures," according to the Department of Workforce Services. The trend can be seen on the list in Whirlpool's loss of 1,400 jobs, a third of last year's count, causing the appliance manufacturer to fall from ninth-largest Arkansas employer to No. 20.

Whirlpool announced at the end of 2005 that it would begin shifting hundreds of jobs to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, but many of the actual layoffs were delayed until 2007.

As for the total Arkansas labor market numbers, the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since November 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate, 5.9 percent, or 81,000 Arkansans, has risen half a percentage point since December 2006 and two-tenths of a point since just November. The Arkansas rate swallows the national unemployment rate, 5, by almost an entire percentage point.

Bottom line: 7,600 more Arkansans are out of work than in 2006.

Despite the unemployment, the size of the Arkansas labor market has expanded by 12,300, cresting at 1,379,900 Arkansans. And many industries are seeing an increase because of the larger labor pool.

The leisure and hospitality sector grew by 3,800 jobs, and educational and health services added 3,100 positions, mostly in health care and social assistance, according to the DWS. Professional and business services saw an increase of 2,600 jobs in the state. The mining industry in north-central Arkansas, according to the DWS press release, caused much of the growth in professional, scientific and technical jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities sectors are taking advantage of the growing market. These areas saw the largest increase, adding about 1,500 jobs.

Triad Hospitals of Plano, Texas, held the No. 8 spot last year with 4,592 employees in seven hospitals. But after one thwarted buyout attempt, Triad sold to Community Health Systems Inc. of Nashville, Tenn., which already had three hospitals in Arkansas. As a result, CHS is now the sixth-largest Arkansas employer with 5,533 employees, although that won't last long.

CHS sold Northeast Arkansas Medical Center at Jonesboro to Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. of Memphis in early November and announced later that month that it would be selling National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center at Russellville to Capella Healthcare Inc. of Franklin, Tenn.



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