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Report: Northwest Arkansas Job Growth Ahead of Peers

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Northwest Arkansas job growth easily beat its peer regions, the state and the nation this past year, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Arkansas.

The 2014 State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report from the Center for Business & Economic Research at the university’s Walton College of Business was released in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Council. More than 300 business leaders and executives attended a luncheon at the Springdale Convention Center and heard from speakers including Rosalind Brewer, the CEO of Sam’s Club, and Ted Abernathy, a economic development advisor for the Southern Governors Association.

More: You can download a summary of the report here (PDF).

The report said employment in northwest Arkansas grew by 2.4 percent to 214,500. Peer areas such as Knoxville, Tennessee, grew by 0.5 percent and Huntsville, Alabama, grew by 1.5 percent.

The state’s employment rate increased by just 0.1 percent and the nation grew by 1.7 percent.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Despite impressive job growth, the region has a poverty rate of 16.8 percent, a decrease of 0.8 percent. It’s the second highest rate among northwest Arkansas’ peer regions and higher than the national average of 15.8 percent.
  • Real gross domestic product grew by 5.6 percent to 22.5 billion. 
  • In 2013, the number of new businesses increased by 2.9 percent to 12,021. This is the region’s largest in recent years and better than the state (2.2 percent) and nation (1.1).
  • Unemployment held steady at 5.7 percent.
  • Research expenditures in 2012 at the University of Arkansas was $123 million, an increase of 2.7 percent from the last recorded data. 

“Our employment growth blew everyone else away,” Kathy Deck, the director of the Center for Business & Economic Research, said. “We were very, very successful on the employment side. If you look at our peer regions, no one else came close.”

But Deck pointed out the discrepancy between high employment and high poverty by saying that wages haven’t kept up with hiring. She called workers with jobs and poverty the “working poor.”

Deck said the region still shows great potential, with growth spread throughout many industries. The transportation sector was the lone sector with employment loss, down by 1,000 jobs. 

While Deck talked about how northwest Arkansas interacted with the state and region economically, Abernathy said that in a global economy all things can affect the region. He pointed out that while the nation’s August unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, Europe was still struggling with the problem and that could affect the United States.

“The globe has contracted from a growth standpoint,” Abernathy said.

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