by Kate Knable
Posted 2/4/2013 12:00 am
Updated 4 months ago
Compared with 2011, the year 2012 was steadier for Arkansas manufacturing employment.
The 156,400 manufacturing jobs the state reported in December 2012 represented a 2 percent increase in manufacturing employment year over year versus December 2011’s 3 percent year-over-year drop.
“In 2012, we really saw manufacturing employment overall [stay] pretty darn stable,” said Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “Things were relatively flat in the manufacturing sector.”
Such stability showed up as a trend among Arkansas’ largest manufacturers, which were surveyed for Arkansas Business’ annual list. More than half of the top 25 companies, ranked by number of employees, kept employee counts even with what they were one year ago or added modest numbers of employees. Not all of the top 25 provided data from February 2012 to compare with this month’s numbers.
Four of the top five companies listed, including Tyson Foods, the state’s largest manufacturer by far, didn’t see changes in employment numbers.
Among the state’s manufacturers that saw growth was Lockheed Martin, the aerospace company that runs operations in Camden and Little Rock. Lockheed Martin didn’t make it into the top 25 on this year’s largest manufacturer’s list.
However, Lockheed reported an employee count of 750 this month. That was an increase of 150 employees, or 25 percent, since February 2012.
“We have seen modest growth in our employment levels at our Lockheed Martin Camden Operations facility over the past year,” said Lockheed spokeswoman Amanda Wiley in an email. “We continue to see modest increases in production on the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) Missile and other military programs due to our U.S. and foreign military customers’ programmatic needs.”
However, Arkansas’ manufacturing sector isn’t what it used to be. In January 2000, the state had 240,200 manufacturing jobs, Deck said; in January 2010, just 157,600, so December 2012’s slight increase in jobs year over year wasn’t notable growth, she said.
Some companies did have good news, though.
Nucor-Yamato Steel Co. last June announced a $115 million plan to expand hot rolled sheet piling production at its steel mill in Blytheville.
Poultry producer Wayne Farms LLC bought a poultry feed mill in Atkins (Pope County) in September to accommodate future growth of the company. Wayne Farms operates a 90,000-SF complex in Danville with a processing facility, feed mill and hatchery.
And an announcement last Tuesday that Big River Steel LLC plans to build a $1.1 billion steel mill in Osceola (Mississippi County) was big news for Arkansas manufacturing. Big River said the Osceola mill would directly employ 525 people.
And poultry company O.K. Industries Inc. in Fort Smith gained 481 employees, an increase of 30 percent since January 2012.
“We’ve increased production and there’s been some lines actually added,” said O.K. spokeswoman Christine Terry.
In poultry and in some other sectors, 2012 was something of a mixed bag. The poultry companies Tyson, as noted previously; George’s Inc. of Springdale; and Butterball LLC, which has locations in five Arkansas towns, each maintained stable employment numbers.
However, another poultry purveyor, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., reduced its Arkansas workforce by 119 people, a drop of about 5 percent.
A Pilgrim’s Pride spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the employment change.
The decreases in poultry jobs at Pilgrim’s Pride possibly came because feed prices were high “relative to the price that they could get for their finished product,” Deck said.
Other bad news included Hawker Beechcraft’s announcement in November that it would lay off 170 people from the company’s Little Rock Completions Center and Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, Kan. Hawker planned to close its Hawker Beechcraft Services facility in Little Rock by the end of January.
On another sour note, Whirlpool Corp. closed its refrigerator manufacturing plant in Fort Smith, costing about 944 jobs.
To recover from the recession and other recent blows to manufacturing in Arkansas, Deck said, the state needs to make the most of its skilled workforce, location and natural resources.
“We still have a lot of capacity and the ability to serve those markets,” Deck said. “It’s just a matter of identifying them and making sure the investments get made here.”