4 of 7 areas in state show job growth

Two Arkansas statistical metropolitan areas saw strong job growth in 2013, while two others showed steady gains and three lost jobs, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Job Growth USA website of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business ranked 372 of 428 metropolitan statistical areas for 2013 on the basis of nonfarm-job growth over a 12-month moving average.

Metropolitan statistical areas are counties and cities that are grouped on the basis of their geographic locations for the purpose of compiling and assessing census and related statistical data.

Four Arkansas statistical metropolitan areas moved up in the rankings - with two reaching the top 15 nationally, while the other two settled into the middle of the list. Job growth declined in three state metropolitan statistical areas, leaving them ranked in the bottom 50.

The Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area - which covers Benton, Washington and Madison counties and part of Missouri - ranked No. 4 nationwide for the year. The number of nonfarm jobs grew by 4.56 percent as compared with 2012, when the region ranked No. 42. The area had an average of 219,790 jobs, up from 210,210 in 2012.

The top three metropolitan statistical area rankings nationwide were (in order) Midland, Texas; Odessa, Texas; and Winchester, Va.

On Wednesday, two Arkansas economists said the state’s rankings were generally positive, with some areas seeing sustained job growth and reporting more jobs than before the recession in 2008.

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said Northwest Arkansas moved up nearly 40 places in the rankings because established businesses hired more workers and several large employers were added, raising the yearly gain to close to 10,000 jobs.

In 2013, the British company Serco moved to Rogers creating more than 1,000 jobs. The company was contracted to process data as part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“But by and large, our bread and butter is job growth from existing large businesses, along with small business and our entrepreneurs,” Deck said.

She said the state’s northwest has seen job growth in all sectors, noting that the last time the metropolitan statistical area was ranked in the Job Growth report’s top 10 was in 2001.

In northeast Arkansas, the Jonesboro metropolitan statistical area ranked No. 11 nationally, with 3.69 percent job growth - a sharp rise from 2012 when it ranked No. 135. The region had an average of 52,920 jobs in 2013, up from 51,030 a year earlier.

Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas atLittle Rock, said Jonesboro is a real success story, showing steady growth and never losing steam during the recession.

He stressed that the numbers presented are still preliminary and will likely be updated in March.

The Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway statistical area ranked No. 158 in the report, showing a 1.28 percent increase in jobs, up from 2012 when the area ranked No. 210. The area had 346,820 workers on average for 2013, up from 342,440 the year earlier.

The Fort Smith metropolitan statistical area - which covers Sebastian, Crawford and Franklin counties in Arkansas and Le Flore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma - ranked No. 110 on the list, showing a gain of 1.69 percent from 2012 when it ranked No. 269. The area had 118,630 employed in 2013 compared with116,660 in 2012.

Pakko said the Little Rock and Fort Smith statistical areas had moderate growth, and that their large populations help insulate them against rapid shifts in job growth or loss. He added that the three metropolitan statistical areas that posted job losses are all in the southern part of the state.

The Texarkana metropolitan statistical area, which includes Texarkana, Ark., and Texarkana, Texas - ranked No. 340, with a 0.53 percent job loss, even though it rose from its No. 345 ranking in 2012. The area had 56,470 workers on average, down from 56,770 for 2012.

The Hot Springs metropolitan statistical area ranked No. 326, showing a job loss of 0.22 percent, dropping from the No. 172 spot last year. Hot Springs averaged 37,580 workers, down from 37,670 in 2012.

The Pine Bluff statistical area was listed at No. 370, third from the bottom of the list, with a job loss of 1.74 percent from 2012 when it ranked No. 362. The area had 35,820 workers, down from an average of 36,450 for 2012.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, said that while there has been steady job loss in the area, the news has not been all bad. The region recently added some workers. L&R Distributors added 250 jobs, and Summit Poultry added more than 100 jobs toward the end of 2013.

She noted that the San Francisco-based URS Corp., which wrapped up its contract for disposing chemicals at the Pine Bluff Arsenal and slowly eliminated 1,200 jobs, which was a big hit for the region.

However, in July 2011, the county began collecting a three-eighths percent sales tax to be used for economic development and workforce training. Nisbett said that money is starting to help with jobs recruitment.

“There are some good things coming this year,” she said.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 01/30/2014

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