Northwest Arkansas employers plan to add more than 3,600 jobs, spend $503 million on expansions by 2019

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 927 views 

The number of workers employers plan to hire over the next three years in Northwest Arkansas continues to rise, according to an annual report released Friday (March 10) by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

There were 477 employers who took part in the 2016 Northwest Arkansas Regional Employer Retention and Expansion (ERE) Survey, and those companies expect to hire a combined 3,621 people in the next three years, a strong indicator they feel good about their future in Northwest Arkansas. (Link here for a PDF of the 30-page report.)

In last year’s regional ERE survey, employers predicted they would hire 3,161 workers over the next three years. The survey has been conducted five times, and that was the previous high of the number of new jobs expected over the next three years. The Northwest Arkansas Council works in partnership on the survey with five local chambers of commerce.

“It’s encouraging to hear companies optimistic about their future in Northwest Arkansas, but we also know we need to continue assisting them with a concerted effort to develop talent here and attract talent from elsewhere,” Mike Harvey, interim president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said in a news release. “Our region’s low unemployment is great news, but it also makes expansions and adding large numbers of workers more difficult.”

The ERE survey allows outreach specialists from chambers of commerce in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers-Lowell, Siloam Springs and Springdale to conduct confidential, face-to-face interviews with employers in their communities. Some employers participating in the survey are the same each year, but many are new. The Northwest Arkansas Council coordinates the survey, according to the news release, and it compiles the findings.

The responses during the interviews often lead to the Council and the chambers of commerce taking steps to assist companies with challenges they face. For example, during an ERE visit with the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce, a Bentonville company expressed interest in doing more recycling but indicated it was having difficulty identifying its best options for large quantities of office paper, cardboard, glass and plastics. The chamber connected the business with another company in NWA that was able to collect, sort and recycle the materials in a way that benefitted the environment and helped the company reach its sustainability goals.

“The chambers of commerce in Northwest Arkansas are excellent when it comes to introducing companies to one another to find solutions,” Harvey said. “The ERE visits have allowed the chambers of commerce to acquire a deeper knowledge of what companies need and the challenges they face, and the chambers are experts on the resources available in their communities.”

Following are other key findings of the 2016 survey.
• Employers expect to spend $503 million on expansions in the next three years. That’s up from $336 million in 2015.

• 27% of employers plan to expand within three years. That figure was 25% in 2015.

• Surveys conducted late in 2016 showed employers were optimistic about getting relief from federal regulations.

• Survey participants are asked to identify community strengths and weaknesses and the positive business climate was the top Northwest Arkansas strength identified by PRIME employers, the companies that manufacture, distribute and operate headquarters in the region. Business climate has remained the most commonly identified strength since the survey’s inception.

• 57 of the survey’s 210 PRIME employers listed skilled worker supply as a community weakness. It was the most common identified weakness.

• Commercial, Retail, Tourism and Service (CRTS) companies, which include such businesses as restaurants, banks and retail stores, listed Northwest Arkansas’ stable economy as the top strength. Transportation and infrastructure were often listed as weaknesses.

• 54% of PRIME employers reported job-recruiting problems. That’s an improvement over the 69% in 2015.