Northwest Arkansas Jobs Data Shows Region 'Looks Like its Old Self Again'

New data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Northwest Arkansas’ incredible population growth is being matched by impressive job growth, regional economy experts said today.

The bureau’s March revisions that show a 4.56 percent increase in jobs in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area put Northwest Arkansas in the 30 top job-growth regions last year among the nation’s 381 largest metropolitan areas.

Kathy Deck, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, and Mike Harvey, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s chief operating officer, invited a small group of Northwest Arkansas mayors and chamber of commerce presidents to a press conference about the region’s growth and the March revisions. The news conference was held because community leaders need to know the revised statistics paint Northwest Arkansas in a completely different light than when the bureau released its original jobs data in January. The revisions occur because the bureau acquires additional information about the economy that wasn’t available at the time of the initial release, Deck said.

“We’re seeing that Northwest Arkansas looks like its old self again,” Deck said. “It’s an economy where our key industries drive our construction growth, our financial markets and everything else in Northwest Arkansas.

“You could not have concluded that with the old data. It was, ‘What’s wrong with Northwest Arkansas?’ The March data on jobs and population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau are strong indications, and we now know the fundamentals of our economy are pointed in the right direction.”

Economists and demographers knew the region’s population never did stop growing even during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, and the U.S. Census Bureau in March released population estimates showing the region reached 501,653 residents by July 1, 2014. In fact, the Census Bureau showed the population had increased 8.3 percent since the 2010 Census, adding more than 38,400 people.

Yet, the job growth data in January of this year was a puzzler, showing the region added about 3,000 jobs in all of 2014. The March revisions did a better job of accounting for job growth throughout the region, particularly in the trade, transportation and utilities sectors, Deck said. The March revisions show the region added about 10,000 jobs last year.

“Kathy and I were perplexed when we saw those January numbers, and for me it was particularly troubling because we saw our region’s companies indicate in our Employer Retention and Expansion (ERE) surveys that they were adding jobs and that they planned to add even more jobs,” Harvey said. “We heard good things from the companies, but the jobs statistics weren’t showing it as strongly as we felt they should.”

Northwest Arkansas’ 4.56 percent job growth ranked 26th in the nation last year among MSAs. The region’s employers created more jobs (10,000) than employers in far larger MSAs, including Charleston (9,900), Pittsburgh (8,100), Baltimore (7,300), Memphis (5,900) Birmingham (4,600) and Milwaukee (3,700).

Northwest Arkansas also outperformed benchmark regions identified in the region’s new three-year strategic plan for growth. That plan, which identified work areas to focus on in 2015, 2016 and 2017, listed Austin (3.12 percent job growth from December 2013 to December 2014); Raleigh (4.27 percent); Des Moines (1.64 percent); and Madison (1.80 percent) as benchmark communities.