Economist: Employment Gains Ahead for Northwest Arkansas

A University of Arkansas economist predicts solid job growth in Northwest Arkansas will continue over the next year.

Kathy Deck made her comments today at the 20th annual Business Forecast luncheon in Rogers.

“Given the robust, multi-sector job growth of 2012 and 2013, Northwest Arkansas should continue enjoying substantial employment gains,” said Deck, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. “Because all private and public sectors are showing strength, a virtuous cycle of economic growth is underway.”

One of the other speakers at the Business Forecast luncheon — Richard Yamarone, the chief economist for Bloomberg Brief — provided a less optimistic view of the nation’s overall economy. Deck, meanwhile, said the state’s rural areas are struggling and almost all of the state’s economic growth is occurring in urban areas, led by Northwest Arkansas.

The statewide forecast for the Arkansas economy in 2014 looks a great deal like the actual experiences of 2013, Deck said. The rate of job growth in the state will continue to be slow, and Arkansas will struggle to reach its pre-recession employment peak.

“The forecast for Arkansas in 2014 is one of slow growth,” Deck said. “I still do not expect the Arkansas state economy to regain its previous levels of employment over the next couple of years.”

Deck shared additional insights into the Arkansas economy at today’s luncheon in Rogers, attended by nearly 1,000 business and government leaders. Among the points Deck made:

·      In 2012, Arkansas per capita personal income did not quite keep pace with the U.S. average. The latest measure in Arkansas stood at 81.3 percent of the U.S. average.

·      Arkansas gross domestic product (GDP) continues to be more concentrated in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade and transportation, management of companies, other services and government than the U.S. average.

·      Employment growth in Arkansas is not on pace to make up the recession’s shortfall in 2014 or 2015, although the national economy is likely to reestablish employment highs during that time.

·      There were net job losses in the manufacturing, government, information and other services sectors in Arkansas in 2013.

·      Despite these losses, the unemployment rate in Arkansas decreased to 6.9 percent from its post-recession high of 9 percent.

·      The Arkansas labor force has been declining on a year-over-year basis every month since July 2012, even though the U.S. labor force has grown.

·      In 2013, employment growth picked up in the Fort Smith, Central Arkansas and Jonesboro metropolitan areas and continued to boom in Northwest Arkansas.

·      In Northwest Arkansas, no sectors had employment declines on a year-over-year basis in 2013, and overall employment grew at 4.3 percent.

·      Economic growth in 2014 will be the result of the broad based investments in every sector in 2012 and 2013.  Construction and professional services will continue to lead the way.

The Center for Business and Economic Research coordinates the Business Forecast luncheon so leaders can hear top economists give their insight into the economic conditions in the state, nation and world over the next year.

The center is a public service/outreach organization whose mission is to serve its constituents with the highest quality research support; basic and applied business and economic analysis; timely, relevant business, economic and related public policy information; and other outreach activities. In addition to supporting research within the college, the center supports economic development by providing economic and demographic data and analysis to business, government and individuals. The center also actively works with the economic development community of the state to build Arkansas’ capacity to create high-wage, high-skill employment.