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Report: Metro Little Rock Continues to Recover From Pandemic

2 min read

The Little Rock metropolitan statistical area is still struggling to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic as some aspects of economic life return to normal while others shift permanently, a new report by planning agency Metroplan shows.

For example, many employees who began working from home during the pandemic are continuing to work from home at least some of the time. Office vacancy is expected to rise as long-term leasing contracts end.

And total jobs in early 2021 were about 4.9% lower than the previous year despite several months of recovery, according to the “2021 Economic Review and Outlook.”

Local unemployment, which briefly hit 10.4% in April 2020, was down to 4.4% by April 2021, besting the U.S. peak of 14.4% in April 2020 and 5.7% in April 2021.

More: See the full report here.

Other findings include:

  • The local labor force declined during the pandemic by nearly 6,000 jobs (-1.6%) and has yet to fully recover; this labor shortage is putting a damper on economic growth.
  • The local region saw job growth in the finance and construction sectors, but took above-average losses in manufacturing, professional/business services, information, transportation and utilities. 
  • Financial jobs in the metro grew by 4.1% during the pandemic, besting the national growth of 1.1%.
  • Central Arkansas single-family housing construction rates in 2020 were the highest since 2007, especially in Conway, which saw a 27% year-over-year increase.
  • Total regional construction value came to $1.1 billion in 2020, but total “unofficial” construction value may have been as high as $1.5 billion with the addition of the Amazon distribution center in the Little Rock Port.

The report also looks at how Little Rock is a financial technology hub in part due to the Venture Center, which hosts an annual Fintech accelerator sponsored by global company FIS of Jacksonville, Florida. The nonprofit has offices at the Little Rock Technology Park and pivoted to offering its programs virtually during the pandemic.

But the virtual model opened the program to entrepreneurs from far-flung places and to more people from the participating companies. As a result, the Venture Center plans to conduct future accelerators through an online and in-person model.

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