Jonesboro Unlimited, a private partnership development organization, hopes to raise $3.7 million in private capital to be used to lure high paying jobs to Northeast Arkansas.
The fund raising drive dubbed, Momentum Jonesboro, has already raised $2.2 million in private investments from 31 different companies, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Young told Talk Business & Politics. Momentum Jonesboro is part of a five-year plan to develop the city’s economy, he said.
“This is an exciting time for our community,” Momentum Jonesboro General Chair Chris Barber said. “The results of this effort will have a significant and positive impact on our community. We appreciate the support that we have to move this program forward.”
Barber is also the CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare, the largest employer in the city. St. Bernards has 2,833 employees, according to estimates.
The goal is to directly create 2,500 jobs that pay $42,000 per year or more. Another 2,600 indirect or induced jobs are projected to be created. Jobs are plentiful in Northeast Arkansas’ hub city, but Income levels are one of the key problems in the region. The money will be used to market the region to targeted industries, whether it’s new businesses or expansion at existing ones, Young said.
About $2 million from Momentum Jonesboro will be used in marketing campaigns and to hire staff to cater to selected industries. Another $850,000 will be used in workforce development, and the other $850,000 will be used to improve the quality of life standards in Jonesboro.
Workforce development will begin in the school system, Young said. The goal is to go into the local school systems and teach students about the jobs they will seek as adults. If students have a better understanding about how much they will make in certain jobs sectors and the education it takes to get these jobs, it might help them make more informed decisions about their post high school education. Creating and keeping talented workers will be crucial, he said.
Quality of life could mean many things, Young said. Bike trails, city park development, expansion of the arts, downtown Jonesboro expansion, and others could be possibilities, he said. Officials will have to study this part of the plan further to develop a course of action, he said.
Jonesboro has an unemployment rate of 2.8%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. But the median household income is was $41,688 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s more than 25% below the national average, and it’s also below the state average. More than 23.7% of city residents live at or below the federal poverty line. The second fastest growing jobs sector in the area produces jobs that pay $20,000 or less per year.
In 2015, local officials developed a five year plan to raise earnings. Avalanche Consulting was hired to study the economic impacts in the region. The study revealed that developers needed to focus on agriculture, logistics, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, and professional services businesses, Young said.
Food manufacturers are a natural fit because several, including Frito Lay already have operations in Jonesboro, he said. Water and waste water processing, key elements in food manufacture are plentiful in Jonesboro, and the city offers competitive electrical rates.
Officials hope to have the money raised by May, Young said. The pitch to local businesses is pretty simple – a rising economic tide lifts the entire economy, he said. For every dollar invested in the Momentum Jonesboro, its estimated local businesses could reap an average of $27.35. Young remained mum about any potential expansions, or potential business recruits that have resulted from these efforts.
Jonesboro Unlimited was formed in 1986 to advance economic development in Jonesboro and NEA. About 100 local businesses joined to create the organization, and it came at a time when food processing was identified as a good fit for the region. It’s part of the Jonesboro Economic Development Corporation (JEDC), a non-profit organization.
“We are really excited about the launch of Momentum Jonesboro … we think this is the next logical step in executing our strategic plan,” Young said. “Our partners have been excited to help.”