Some Northeast Arkansas Cities See Record Growth in 2017

Some Northeast Arkansas Cities See Record Growth in 2017
Mark Young, president of the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition.

Some communities in northeast Arkansas saw record growth in 2017. Indicators including population growth, increased spending and residential and large-scale commercial construction resulted in sales tax revenue and employment gains across the region. 

Craighead County collected a record $19.9 million in sales tax during 2017, surpassing the previous year's mark of $19.4 million, a 3 percent increase. According to the Craighead County Treasurer's Department, collections have risen nearly 16 percent since 2012. 

The county's strongest month for tax revenue was February ($1.9 million); its weakest was March ($1.5 million). Jonesboro accounted for $13.9 million of total county collection fees, up 3 percent from $13.5 million in 2016.

Unemployment rates reached historic lows in Craighead County, and much of northeast Arkansas outpaced the state and national average in 2017. Craighead County's dropped from 3.4 percent at the beginning of the year to a low of 2.5 percent in April. Jonesboro, which employs most of the county's civilian labor force, reported 37,918 workers, with 986 workers unemployed, a rate of 2.6 percent.

Mark Young, president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, attributes the results to a diverse job base and a good quality of life.

"We've seen growth in many industry sectors, including manufacturing, health care and logistics, among others," he said. "FMH Conveyors celebrated their grand opening in 2017, Risever announced their selection of Jonesboro for their first ever manufacturing facility in the United States, and many existing companies continued to grow and expand in Craighead County. 

"Jonesboro's quality of life and amenities continue to provide great opportunities for jobs and education, which in turn continues to drive population growth." 

Agriculture, Manufacturing Growth

Surrounding counties saw similar gains in 2017 amid a diverse pool of agricultural, manufacturing, medical, processing, education and professional jobs. 

Greene County, whose population has increased by 40 percent since 1990, saw modest sales tax revenue gains of 1.8 percent last year, collecting $9.9 million. Along with Craighead County, it also saw some of the lowest unemployment rate numbers in the state last year, reaching a low of 2.9 percent in April. 

Lawrence County saw the largest percentage increase in sales tax revenue last year, bringing in a record $883,733. Several manufacturing expansion announcements coupled with a bustling housing market accounted for the 3.3 percent increase from 2016, while unemployment hit a low 3.1 percent in April. 

Randolph County saw a dip of 8.9 percent in sales tax revenue last year, recording total collections of $2.6 million. But at the January city council meeting, Pocahontas Mayor Kary Story reported a 14.9 percent increase in county sales tax revenue since 2014, growth driven by the new Peco Foods poultry hatchery and processing plant

"We've seen a drop off in sales tax revenue since Peco and the 600 new chicken houses in Randolph County were completed," Story said. "Simply put, we were leveling off, but I think we can look for steady increases from now on. We've received a number of calls regarding potential foreign investments in the past six to eight months, especially from the Asian market."

Poinsett County's 2017 revenue almost mirrored the previous year. As of November, the county had collected $1.3 million, $17,600 less than the same time in 2016. But large-scale building and renovation projects like Rage Fabrications, which is set to open in early 2018 and employ about 20, will likely cause revenue to surpass 2016. 

Regional Efforts

Leaders in northeast Arkansas are looking for more regional solutions to economic development in 2018, efforts that include the "Stronger Economies Together" initiative, which aims to build a regional economic development plan.

While area population, tax revenue and job opportunities continue to grow in northeast Arkansas, challenges like low median income and a lack of housing and infrastructure improvements remain. 

Young, who also serves as president of the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition, explained that the main goal of NEADC in 2018 is to continue to work together to complete and begin implementing the region's strategic plan.

"Northeast Arkansas has many opportunities for continued growth," he said. "By investing in our infrastructure and focusing on growing and developing our workforce, we can assist existing companies expand while recruiting new employers to the region."