These certainly aren’t the boom times of a decade ago, but Northwest Arkansas is a pretty good place to be as the nation struggles to recover from the ongoing recession.
A report released June 27 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows regional workforce numbers for May were up more than 8,000 jobs over May 2011.
According to Michael R. Pakko, chief economist and state economic forecaster for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute of Economic Advancement, Northwest Arkansas has a strong core of businesses that help buffer its economy against negative national trends.
That fact became evident during recent years, Pakko said.
“The contraction in nationwide final demand had an impact on local business, but there was enough growth momentum going into the recession to keep the slowdown from being too severe,” he said.
Because of the regional building boom in the years before the recession, Northwest Arkansas endured a surplus of real estate and many construction-related job losses when the economy began to crash in 2008.
“More than any other metro area in the state, the economy in Northwest Arkansas has suffered from the subsequent collapse of real estate prices and construction activity,” Pakko said. “Nevertheless, underlying growth of key businesses in the region has also meant that Northwest Arkansas has had the lowest unemployment rate of all the state’s metro areas.”
Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said that although Northwest Arkansas’ unemployment rate is much higher than a decade ago, recovery is coming faster than in other parts of the country.
“One of the reasons is we have very strong economy bases in this area,” she said. “We have major companies that support high levels of employment, a university that puts out a stream of qualified graduates and Crystal Bridges [Museum of American Art in Bentonville], which is building a new tourism sector.”
Sandy Stout, human resources director at Vista Health Services in Fayetteville, said with tools such as the newspaper and others, finding employment in Northwest Arkansas is not difficult unless the job seeker is looking for work in upper management, certain areas of skilled work or corporate-level positions.
Stout said registered nurses are particularly needed.
“We never have enough registered nurses to fill the demand,” she said.
Jim Blankenship, director of classified sales for NWA Media, said employment advertising in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Northwest Arkansas Edition has been steady for the past couple of years.
Like Stout, Blankenship agreed that health-care workers are in high demand.
“The one employment category that has been consistently aggressive in advertising is the medical industry,” he said. “If you are in the nursing field, you won’t have a problem finding a job.”