Main Street Jonesboro, Workforce Initiatives Draw Accolades in Competition

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 25, 2013 12:00 am  

Jonesboro is on the move and people have noticed.

The past two years, the city received Arkansas Business City of Distinction recognition for workforce development and main street preservation.

Redrawing Downtown

Like many progressive cities, Jonesboro is serious about downtown revitalization and historic preservation. Those Arkansans whose familiarity with the city begins and ends with Arkansas State University might be surprised to learn that Jonesboro — seat of Craighead County and de facto regional “capital” — has a thriving downtown scene.

Jonesboro is growing all over — with about 68,000 folks, it is Arkansas’ fifth most populous city according to the 2010 census. Recent revitalization efforts have breathed new life into downtown in terms of nightlife, new restaurants and shopping, an arts scene and even the development of loft spaces.

The preservation of the old “Winter Wonderland” building on Main Street got the ball rolling, and it hasn’t stopped. Several downtown buildings now are listed on the state and national historic registers.

The city installed three free parking lots and completed a downtown streetscape project with decorative light poles, planter boxes, sidewalk and crosswalk paving stones and other sidewalk enhancements and a decorative pond.

Eventful Schedule

Big events have followed the crowds downtown, thanks to the efforts of the Downtown Jonesboro Association. Jonesboro hosts the annual Biker Classic that includes a motorcycle show, music, food and more. The 2012 Biker Classic drew more than 5,000 and raised more than $70,000 for the Jonesboro Police Department’s DARE anti-drug program.

The annual Downtown Jonesboro BBQ Festival, better known as BBQ Fest, is in its fourth year and includes a barbecue contest, free music (the inaugural event featured headliner Night Ranger), food, art, kids’ activities and more.

City officials estimate more than 10,000 attended that first event and were estimating a crowd of more than 18,000 to see a free show from .38 Special at the 2012 BBQ Fest.

Downtown also is home to the Forum, another historically significant building now used as a community theater and funded by the city. It hosts events ranging from plays and musicals to art, music and dance classes sponsored by the Foundation of Arts.

Attracting Industry, Jobs

City leaders also know it takes a highly skilled workforce to attract industry.

The city created a Workforce Training Consortium in the mid-’90s to provide skills training for industry. The consortium is a nonprofit group of local industry and education leaders formed to develop workforce training. In the last 15 years, Jonesboro has attracted seven major manufacturers to town, about one every other year.

In addition to new firms moving in, 13 major expansions at existing manufacturers have added roughly 1,200 jobs since 2000. Companies wouldn’t locate to Jonesboro or expand their local operations without faith in a qualified workforce.

Working With Schools

Not only is Jonesboro home to five excellent public school districts, but it’s home to the state’s second-largest institution of higher learning, Arkansas State University.

Being proactive, the WTC purchased state-of-the-art equipment for an advanced manufacturing program of study at ASU’s Technical College.

The study of advanced manufacturing is called mechatronics, and is a multidisciplinary field of engineering combining mechanics, electronics, control theory and computer scienc

Career Ready

Jonesboro is perhaps the most career-ready city in the state, evidenced by the more than 4,000 Career Readiness Certificates awarded as of last spring.

CRCs are “portable credentials” based on assessments demonstrating to employers that a job candidate possesses the basic skills required for jobs in the current marketplace.

Several Jonesboro manufacturers, including Nestle, Unilever, Nice-Pak and Post Foods, use the CRC program as an effective screening tool.

All these elements of the city’s downtown and workforce development strategies are expected to continue to pay dividends down the road.

 

 

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