Study: Jonesboro ‘Hidden Gem’ Needs To Tell Its Story

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 140 views 

The last 30 or so years have been transformative for the city of Jonesboro, especially economically, a consultant hired by the local chamber said Wednesday.

Leaders are hopeful that a new study can provide a roadmap for the city and region’s survival for the next 30 years. Officials with Austin, Texas-based Avalanche Consulting unveiled the results of a study that showed the city’s strengths as well as its weaknesses during an event at the Fowler Center.

Jonesboro chamber officials released a survey June 24, looking at a variety of community issues as part of a planning process for the future. The survey, completed by 1,850 people online, showed:

  • Nearly 40% of the people who answered the survey said they had moved to Jonesboro in the past 15 years;
  • 69% said they moved to Jonesboro for a job or go to college;
  • 18% said they moved to Jonesboro to be closer to family.

Jonesboro Economic Development Corporation president Joe Williams said a similar project was done by Jonesboro Unlimited 30 years ago, which helped to lay the groundwork for the city’s growth.

“A study was done and it showed the food industry (as an industry to develop),” Williams said. “Today, we have Frito-Lay, Nestle, Post Foods and Butterball.”

Williams said officials have worked hard since then to bring people and jobs to Jonesboro. However, one of the officials from Avalanche Consulting, Amy Holloway, said the world of economic development has changed in the same period of time.

Holloway, who serves as the company president, said the competitive environment to land a major industry is intense. Most places participate in “elephant hunting” or attempting to bring a major industry to a town, she said. “Today, it is very slim,” Holloway said of the chances to successfully land a major industry in the current economy.

According to the study, Avalanche was able to find at least five major industries – agribusiness, healthcare, logistics, manufacturing and professional services – to attract jobs to Jonesboro.

The study showed that there has been a 40% increase in the past 10 years in the number of people working in healthcare, while 6,500 people work in manufacturing in the Jonesboro area.

A surprise in the study was the mention of logistics, including truck transportation and warehousing companies. Holloway said the industry is a natural fit for Jonesboro.

“First, it would serve existing industries. Jonesboro is right in the middle of the Southeast logistical hub and is close to Memphis,” she said. “Also, the jobs are more high-tech and very clean.”

Another surprise showed that the area has a dearth of available locations for companies to build.

“There is a lack of contiguous property (in Jonesboro),” Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Young said. “It is also critical for success.”

The study looked at the city’s positives.

“Jonesboro possesses a diverse and resilient economy fueled by broad array of assets. Economic development professionals are well aware of the community’s competitive advantages, including the professionalism of JEDC’s staff, City Water & Light’s forward-thinking operations, and the region’s skilled workforce. Jonesboro’s story, however, isn’t as well-known as its strengths warrant,” the study noted. “The community must do a better job of marketing its strengths in order to recruit, retain and create high wage jobs in its target industries. As Jeff Forsythe, Principal at site selection consultancy McCallum Sweeney observed, Jonesboro is a ‘hidden gem.’ With a robust marketing campaign, Jonesboro can emerge as a widely recognized gem.”

The study also stressed the need for improved infrastructure, workforce training and letting people know about quality of life issues in the region.