Arkansas’ manufacturing sector remains in post-recession downturn, skilled labor still a concern

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 208 views 

Arkansas shed 1,354 industrial jobs from the beginning of 2014 to September 2015, continuing the post-recession slump that has shrunk the number of factory-related jobs across the state since 2007, according to the 2016 Arkansas Manufacturers Register, an industrial database and directory published by Manufacturers’ News Inc.

“While many states have seen strong post-recession growth, Arkansas has struggled to come back from the downturn,” says Tom Dubin, president of the Evanston, Ill.-based publishing company, which has been surveying the industry since 1912. “Although the state’s low cost of doing business and abundant natural resources has appealed to many companies, a shortage of skilled workers as well as a stronger dollar has put a dent in growth.”

According to MNI’s report, growth stalled over the year largely in food processing, the state’s top sector by manufacturing jobs with 49,577 blue collar workers. Second-ranked industrial machinery posted a gain of 2.1% to 16,365 jobs, reports MNI, while employment fell 5.3% in third-ranked fabricated metals to 15,161.

Employment in most other Arkansas industries also reported losses, according to MNI, with jobs in furniture/fixtures down 14%; instruments/related products down 11%; chemicals, down 4.1%; paper products, down 2.7%; stone/clay/glass, down 2.2%; printing/publishing, down 1.7%; and transportation equipment, down 1.6%. Losses were offset by employment gains reported in the rubber/plastics industry, up 5.5%, as well as the primary metals sector, up 1.5%.

Overall, Arkansas is now home to 3,291 manufacturers employing 192,456 workers, MNI reports. Bentonville retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is by far the largest manufacturer in Arkansas with 5,000 workers, followed by Tyson Foods with 4,200. Steelmaker Tenaris-Hickman in Blytheville and George’s Inc. are tied for third with 2,100 employees, followed by Dassault Falcon in Little Rock with 1,800.

The state lost about 14% of its industrial employment between September 2007 and September 2013, but a 2013-2014 survey showed a slight gain of 645 jobs. However, industrial employment dipped again over the past year, which was also highlighted in a recent report showing that the number of blue collar jobs is on a path to decline to the lowest level since the state began keeping such records.

The highly-respected manufacturing industry publication noted that key plant closures in Arkansas included store fixture manufacturer LA Darling’s plants in Piggott and Corning; Superior Industries in Rogers; APEX tool, which moved its Springdale operations to South Carolina; and the Saint-Gobain facility in Fort Smith.

Bright spots for the state included Micro Plastics’ plans to break ground on a new facility in Melbourne as well as expansions announced by Hanesbrands; American Railcar Industries; Baxter International; and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

MNI’s regional analysis shows losses were mostly concentrated in Northwest Arkansas, which currently accounts for the most industrial employment in the state with 109,076 manufacturing jobs and saw employment decline 1%. Southeast Arkansas also posted a loss, down 3.5% to 15,609 jobs. Employment was virtually unchanged in Northeast and Southwest Arkansas, home to 36,474 and 31,297 manufacturing jobs, respectively.

Employment in Springdale declined 2.5%, with the city home to the most manufacturing jobs in the state, numbering 13,593. Little Rock declined 1.8% over the year, with the second-ranked city home to 12,585 jobs. Employment was down 2.9% in third-ranked Fort Smith, which currently accounts for 11,837 jobs, while employment held steady at 6,807 jobs in fourth-ranked Rogers. Jobs fell 6.8% in fifth-ranked Pine Bluff, which accounts for 6,087 workers.

Detailed profiles of all Arkansas manufacturers can be found in the 2016 Arkansas Manufacturers Register available in print or online. Established in 1912, Manufacturers’ News, Inc. is the nation’s oldest and largest publisher of industrial information.