Jonesboro Rallies Diverse Economy To Battle Pandemic Pressures

Jonesboro Rallies Diverse Economy To Battle Pandemic Pressures
Mark Young

Close to a week ago, Jonesboro was rated among the best in the nation for its job growth.

Also close to a week ago, a Jonesboro landlord was spotlighted nationally for taking steps to assist restaurant employees whose jobs have taken a hit thanks to the coronavirus.

It’s a sign of the rapidly changing times that the city could almost simultaneously celebrate its ranking in Headlight Data’s Metro Economic Scorecard for 2019 while also celebrating business owners like Joe Clay Young, who is foregoing April rent collections for his 11 restaurant tenants so that their employees might have pay. 

That’s life in the COVID-19 era, said Mark Young, president and CEO of the economic development partnership Jonesboro Unlimited.

“Just like communities all across the United States, we’re certainly not immune to the challenges that the COVID virus presented,” Young said.

The Headlight Data report ranked Jonesboro No. 1 in Arkansas among small metros (fewer than 500,000 people) for jobs growth in 2019 and 32nd nationally among 281 small metros. Headlight Data calculated that Jonesboro added 1,500 direct new jobs from December 2018 to December 2019.

That figure was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and was higher than the 939 direct new jobs reported in the Jonesboro Unlimited Annual Survey of New and Expanded Industry. In February, the area had already surpassed its goal of 2,500 news jobs by 2021, announced in 2017 as part of Jonesboro Unlimited’s “Momentum Jonesboro” campaign.

Young credited a diverse local economy based on Jonesboro Unlimited’s target industries of manufacturing, health care, logistics, professional services and agriculture.

“We’ve got much more work to do and we’re going to continue to work hard,” he said.

The vital role played by health care providers like St. Bernards Medical Center and NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital, plus smaller clinics and centers, is invaluable at a time like this, Young said.

But he went on to note the importance of the region’s overall economic diversity, which has helped Jonesboro and the region survive, and rebound from, tough economic times in the past.

Young said that, with a number of essential industries like health care, manufacturing and logistics still operating during the coronavirus pandemic, he expects that resiliency to show itself again.

From medical care to food to consumer items like baby wipes, not to mention the trucking companies doing the shipping and delivering, many of Jonesboro’s businesses are operating at capacity because of local and national needs and demands, Young said.

“All of our businesses are the lifeblood of our community and we want to make sure they continue to thrive and do well,” Young said. 

He praised owners and employees of industries hit hard by the pandemic, and people like Joe Clay Young who have displayed altruism, community spirit and versatility.

Mark Young noted local barbers whose shops are temporarily shuttered. Several are banding together to collect protective gear for hospitals.

“And there’s many, many other people and organizations doing the same,” he said. “Asking the questions ‘How can we help?’ And ‘What role can we play?’ And then stepping up and doing that.”

As the reach of the pandemic’s impact continues to be seen, Young said community and economic leaders are trying to stay current on the latest information and to keep local businesses, especially small businesses, in possession of the latest, best advice for adapting to the economic challenges.

“When things improve, and they will, our community, because of the great business community we have and the leadership in that community, we’ll be poised to continue to move forward,” Young said.