State's Largest Employers Continue to Post Lower Job Totals

Last year when Arkansas Business published its list of the state's largest employers, almost all the confirmed employment increases were in either the government or health care sectors. Only five companies not in those sectors posted increases in 2010 compared with 2009.

Click here to see the list of the largest employer's in the state. 

This year's list again shows confirmed employment growth in the state occurring in the health care industry. Employment was not up across the field, however; both Sparks Health Care System of Fort Smith and Community Health Systems Inc., which has its headquarters in Texas and locations throughout Arkansas, reported employment declines of more than 15 percent.

Both the state and federal governments saw employment declines as well. Though numbers rose from 2009 to 2010, this year federal employment in the state dropped more than 3 percent, while state government was down less than 1 percent.

The loss of state government employees isn't unexpected. Mike Stormes, administrator of the Office of Budget of the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, predicted last year that employment resulting from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, often referred to as the federal stimulus fund, would be expiring. That, he says, is exactly what has happened.

"Everything is kind of tracking the way we had contemplated," Stormes said. "The ARRA money is running its course; we're coming to the end of it. And that translates to the positions, and, thus, most of the positions now will go away."

Of the 284 ARRA positions that were authorized for this fiscal year, Stormes said only 74 of them were currently filled. "I suspect that 74 will continue to decline going into fiscal year 2012," Stormes said. "By the end of fiscal year '12, that will probably be down to zero."

Of the top five employers in the state - including the two government bodies - one other, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, reported a drop in employees. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville and Baptist Health of Little Rock both reported improved numbers.

While many of the companies that responded to the survey reported declines, the unemployment rate for Arkansas is actually down from a year ago. The Arkansas Labor Market report produced by the Department of Workforce Services for January 2011 showed that the unemployment rate for January 2011 was 7.8 percent, down from 7.9 percent in December 2010 and from 8 percent in January 2010.

Most of the year-over-year gain in jobs occurred in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation and utilities. Not all those sectors, however, have companies large enough to make the list.

If a company does not respond to repeated requests for current information, Arkansas Business will often rely on estimates from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission or other published reports.