A Northwest Arkansas survey showed employers plan to hire more workers over the next three years than they reported in any of four previous annual inquiries.
The 477 employers participating in the 2016 Employer Retention and Expansion (ERE) survey expect to hire 3,621 workers over the next three years. It’s considered a good economic sign when employers expect to hire more people in future years.
The regional ERE survey, a collaboration between the Northwest Arkansas Council and five Northwest Arkansas chambers of commerce, has been conducted five times. The previous high for the number of new jobs expected was in 2015 when employers predicted they would hire 3,161 workers over three years.
“It’s encouraging to hear companies optimistic about their future in Northwest Arkansas, but we also know we need to continue assisting them with a concerted effort to develop talent here and attract talent from elsewhere,” said Mike Harvey, interim president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “Our region’s low unemployment is great news, but it also makes expansions and adding large numbers of workers more difficult.”
The survey’s other key findings:
- Employers expect to spend $503 million on expansions in the next three years. That’s up from $336 million in 2015.
- 27 percent of employers plan to expand within three years. That figure was 25 percent in 2015.
- Surveys conducted late in 2016 showed employers were optimistic about getting relief from federal regulations.
- Survey participants are asked to identify community strengths and weaknesses and the positive business climate was the top Northwest Arkansas strength identified by PRIME employers, the companies that manufacture, distribute and operate headquarters in the region. Business climate has remained the most commonly identified strength since the survey’s inception.
- 57 of the survey’s 210 PRIME employers listed skilled worker supply as a community weakness. It was the most common identified weakness.
- Commercial, Retail, Tourism and Service (CRTS) companies, which include such businesses as restaurants, banks and retail stores, listed Northwest Arkansas’ stable economy as the top strength. Transportation and infrastructure were often listed as weaknesses.
- 54 percent of PRIME employers reported job-recruiting problems. That’s an improvement over the 69 percent in 2015.
- The ERE survey allows outreach specialists from chambers of commerce in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers-Lowell, Siloam Springs, and Springdale to conduct confidential, face-to-face interviews with employers in their communities. Some employers participating in the survey are the same each year, but many are new. The Northwest Arkansas Council coordinates the survey, and it compiles the findings.
The responses during the interviews often lead to the Council and the chambers of commerce taking steps to assist companies with challenges they face.
For example, the Council in mid-2016 created Finding Northwest Arkansas (Finding NWA), a program to help people from elsewhere gain a full knowledge of job opportunities, schools, communities and quality of life in Northwest Arkansas.
The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, worked with a landowner after an ERE visit in 2015 and convinced him to construct a spec building, something that’s in short supply. With the building under construction in 2016, the chamber helped find a tenant, providing room to expand for a fast-growing Fayetteville company.
“The chambers of commerce in Northwest Arkansas are excellent when it comes to introducing companies to one another to find solutions,” Harvey said. “The ERE visits have allowed the chambers of commerce to acquire a deeper knowledge of what companies need and the challenges they face, and the chambers are experts on the resources available in their communities. The Fayetteville example demonstrates why it’s important to make ERE visits.”
ERE visits played a key role in the Northwest Arkansas Council’s decision to work with educators and ask them to expand workforce training. Community colleges and universities, Northwest Technical Institute and high schools in Benton and Washington counties are doing more to meet those workforce needs than they were just two or three years ago, Harvey said.