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Central Arkansas' economy continues to show signs of recovery

Little Rock Port Authority Port of Little Rock
Michael Hibblen
/
KUAR News
Metroplan sees the Port of Little Rock as an ideal location for additional manufacturing jobs.

Central Arkansas’ economy continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent report from Metroplan, the region’s urban planning agency, shows in its findings.

According to Metroplan’s report, during the peak of the pandemic, the region’s unemployment rate was at 11.6%. Currently the region’s unemployment rate is at 3.7%, which is lower than the national average of 4%. Central Arkansas' unemployment rate is 6% higher than the state’s unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Even with the unemployment rate significantly lowering, the available workforce remains low, according to the report. It cites child care demands, older workers retiring early, and concerns about health risks, which is keeping the available workforce at 2% or about 6,000 workers.

Metroplan says manufacturing jobs in Little Rock have seen a decline compared to the rest of the country. Jonathan Lupton, senior planner for publications for Metroplan, said the trend could reverse and the city could become an ideal place for manufacturers.

In recent years, Amazon has built warehouses and other businesses are eyeing the region to create warehouses, according to Metroplan’s report. Lupton says the Port of Little Rock as well as the Galloway area in North Little Rock near Interstate 40 could serve as “supersites” for manufacturing. He says higher education institutions in the area could also play a role in training new workers seeking to enter the manufacturing field.

“A supersite is basically a large tract of land that is suited for industrial development and the idea is to have something ready for a really big manufacturing facility to move right in. It’s a rare treat, it doesn’t happen very often, but Little Rock very well could be primed for one,” Lupton said in an interview with KUAR News.

From 2019 to 2021, central Arkansas outpaced the rest of the nation in education, healthcare and financial services jobs, according to the report. The financial sector has been the most reliable provider of job growth in the region with the rise of fintech, which is software used to digitize banking.

HOUSING TRENDS

Lupton says costs for both single and multi-family housing in central Arkansas are about 25% below the national average. The region gave a total of 3,306 total housing permits last year, which is the most since 2007.

Due to its geographical location, Arkansas isn’t seeing housing costs increase like the rest of the country.

“We’ve got two advantages here in Arkansas and one is our costs are lower to begin with, so the cost of inflation may not be hitting us as hard. And second of all, we are a lumber center. Lumber and wood are some of the critical commodities of the housing industry and we are close to it; we have an advantage there,” Lupton said.

Last year, central Arkansas gave 1,908 permits for single-family housing units because of the rise in residents upgrading their living spaces for remote work. Even with the increased demand for single unit housing, the region still increased production of multi-family housing units with the region constructing 1,398 units.

Currently, multi-family housing accounts for 22% of all housing in the region, which is up 2% from 2010. The report cites the increase in multi-family housing in the region is a result of rising population density and housing affordability challenges for many residents.

The full report can be found on Metroplan's website.