Arkansas Economy Should Enjoy 'Steady Growth,' Kathy Deck Tells Forecast Luncheon

by Chris Bahn  on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 4:07 pm  

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Walton College of Business, speaks to the audience at the 2013 Business Forecast Luncheon. (Photo by Twitter: @uawaltoncollege)

Arkansas will enjoy steady economic growth in 2013, but is not likely to hit pre-recession levels.

That’s the outlook from University of Arkansas economist Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Deck spoke Friday at the 19th annual Business Forecast Luncheon held at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers and sponsored by the UA.

Deck’s analysis projects significant employment gains in 2013 for Northwest Arkansas, "very much unlike the national economy." New highway and home construction, leisure and hospitality, retail entrepreneurship and professional services are potential areas of growth the region, which saw employment grow by 4.3 percent in 2012.

Employment in Northwest Arkansas has reached pre-recessions highs and 4,000-plus jobs were created in 2012.

"We expect to see those gains continue," Deck said. "I expect we’ll gain a couple thousand jobs this year and a couple thousand jobs next year."

No employment sectors in northwest Arkansas saw a decline, unlike the state economy, which saw drops in four areas (professional/business services, information, financial activities and construction).

Despite the losses in some sectors, Arkansas has seen overall improvement in its unemployment rate. Unemployment statewide is down to 7.1 percent after getting as high as 9.0 at the highest point post-recession.

Central Arkansas, like the rest of the state, is expected to see modest improvement. Deck said for the state to see substantial growth, Little Rock and the surrounding areas will need to become stronger economically, especially when it comes to job creation.

"Central Arkansas looks very similar to the overall state economy," Deck said. "That shouldn’t be surprising. It has, for all intents and purposes, been moving very sideways. We need our biggest economy in the state to see more substantial gains."

Fort Smith has been the weakest area in the state when it comes to job growth and unemployment. Manufacturing losses there leave the city and surrounding region as the one “most clearly in need of a big boost,” Deck said.

However, Deck noted, "the bleeding has stopped enormously" for Fort Smith.

Jonesboro has enjoyed "a nice uptick of several hundred jobs" and seems to have been impacted the least during the recession.



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