The economy of Jonesboro continues to exhibit great momentum. Having a diverse economic base has been a key ingredient to economic growth and that continues to be the case today.
Key economic indicators show a growing, healthy economy. The unemployment rate for Jonesboro in December was 3 percent, which is among the lowest in the state of Arkansas. Equally important, the community saw an increase in our civilian labor force which illustrates the continued population growth the community has enjoyed for several decades.
Additional progress can be seen in the sales tax collections for the City of Jonesboro and Craighead County. Over $36 million in sales taxes were collected in 2016, which is an increase from the previous year. Increased construction projects also indicate progress. Both the number of permits and the value of permits are above 2015 levels.
Advanced manufacturing is a critical part of our local economy. Two major industrial expansions were completed in 2016. Hytrol Conveyor completed a 62,000-SF expansion of its manufacturing facility that included a new paint system and additional equipment. Hytrol is the largest manufacturer in Jonesboro and started operations here in 1962 in 27,000-SF. Today the company has over 1,000 employees and occupies over 600,000 SF.
FMH Conveyors conducted an evaluation to determine the best location for an expansion and selected Jonesboro for a new, 200,000-SF facility that recently celebrated its grand opening. The new facility allows the company to add over 100 employees.
Jonesboro serves as the regional hub for health care with St. Bernards Healthcare and NEA Baptist Health System providing excellent care to our citizens and region. Both health care organizations continue to invest in facilities and services benefitting the entire region. Arkansas State University continues to be an economic driver for the community and region. Recently A-State partnered with the New York Institute of Technology to start the first College of Osteopathic Medicine in the state of Arkansas. The inaugural class began in August in what will be a transformative endeavor for health care throughout the region.
Looking back at past performance is important, but so is planning for the future. Jonesboro Unlimited (our economic development partnership organization) launched Momentum Jonesboro, an aggressive new approach to economic development. The investment goal is $3.7 million from the private sector over the next five years. Funds from the campaign will be utilized to fully execute Jonesboro Unlimited’s five-year strategic plan.
Creating, attracting and retaining new high paying jobs is at the heart of the strategic plan. The projected outcome of the fully implemented strategic plan is the creation of 2,500 new, direct jobs and a total of more than 5,100 with the inclusion of indirect and induced jobs. Many of those will come from the target industries of agribusiness, health care, logistics, advanced manufacturing and professional services.
Communities that invest in their workforce will be locations that will have success. Jonesboro is fortunate to have great workforce development assets. The strategic plan emphasizes the work and investment being made in our community to enhance our workforce and to recruit additional talent to the community.
Locations are also evaluated on quality of life and place based assets that are present. Ensuring that the quality of life amenities serve as a competitive advantage for future generations is also an area of emphasis of the strategic plan.
The economy of Jonesboro continues to thrive. Fully implementing our strategic plan will provide the momentum that moves us forward to greater heights.
Mark Young is the president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce.