by Gwen Moritz
Posted 8/2/2010 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
In announcing that Arkansas' unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point, from 7.7 percent in May to 7.5 percent in June, the state Department of Workforce Services said that manufacturing had added 1,700 jobs in one month. That represented almost half of the 3,500 manufacturing jobs added in the state since June of last year.
Plastic and rubber products manufacturing and food manufacturers reported employment increases in June, DWS announced, adding that "many companies reported facility expansions and hiring increases."
Similarly, the Federal Reserve Bank at St. Louis, in its July "Beige Book" of economic activity around the region that includes Arkansas, reported increases in manufacturing activity since the publication of the June book.
"Several manufacturers reported plans to open plants and expand operations in the near future, while a smaller number of contacts reported plans to close plants and reduce operations. Firms in the furniture, plastics product, metal pipe, and plastics resin manufacturing industries announced plans to expand operations and hire new employees," according to the Federal Reserve.
And a national indicator of economic health, the report on mass layoffs that was issued July 23 by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that initial unemployment claims among agricultural and manufacturing workers were the lowest in June since monthly data collection began more than 15 years ago. In a related report, the BLS said that the manufacturing sector accounted for 11 percent of all mass layoffs (50 employees or more) in June and 12 percent of all initial jobless claims - the lowest proportions since the tracking of mass layoffs began in April 1995. By contrast, manufacturing workers were a third of all initial claims nationwide in June 2009 and manufacturers made more than a quarter of all mass layoffs that month.
As usual, Tyson Foods Inc. - the meat and poultry giant headquartered at Springdale but operating plants in more than two dozen Arkansas cities - tops the list of the state's largest manufacturers. The most recent employee count available is almost 24,500, up by more than 400 from the 2009 list.
Another poultry producer, Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs, has added a production line, boosting its head count to almost 3,800 and moving the company into the No. 2 position.
Last year's second-largest manufacturer, Georgia-Pacific LLC of Atlanta, meanwhile has reduced its Arkansas employment by about 700 during the past year, including the loss of almost 350 jobs when the plywood plant at Fordyce was shut down late last year.
Lennox Industries, which makes air conditioners at Stuttgart, wasn't even on the list in 2009, but popped up to No. 19 by adding 300 workers during the last year to keep up with what a spokesman said was a dramatic increase in demand.
Appliance maker Whirlpool Corp., whose employee count in Arkansas has dwindled in recent years, has also been hiring. The company did not respond to the Arkansas Business survey, but The Associated Press reported in April that the Fort Smith plant's total employment was back up to 1,900. Last year's count was 1,400.