A private partnership development organization’s goal to raise $3.7 million to help invigorate the economy in Northeast Arkansas is closer to becoming a reality. Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Young told Talk Business & Politics that Jonesboro Unlimited is on target to reach its goal, but he didn’t release an exact figure.
An official announcement could come as early as May 18, he said. The organization had raised $2.2 million through private investments by 31 different companies as of late January.
“It’s going very well. We are on pace to meet our goal,” Young said.
Jonesboro Unlimited started its fundraising drive, “Momentum Jonesboro,” to attract 2,500 direct jobs, and 2,600 indirect jobs to the region. The goal is to create jobs that pay at least $42,000 per year.
Jonesboro has an unemployment rate of 3.3%, which is near historic lows for the city, but one problem public officials have acknowledged is a lack of good paying jobs. The city has a median household income of $41,688, more than 25% below the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Almost 24% of the city’s population lives at or below the federal poverty line. Jobs that pay $20,000 per year or less are the fastest growing jobs in the city.
In 2015, local officials developed a five-year plan to raise earnings. Avalanche Consulting was hired to study economic factors 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 wastewater processing, key elements in food manufacturing, are plentiful in Jonesboro and the city offers competitive electrical rates.
The pitch to local businesses is pretty simple – a rising economic tide lifts the entire economy, he said. For every dollar invested in “Momentum Jonesboro,” it’s 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. A list of companies that have promised to contribute to “Momentum Jonesboro” has not been released.
Jonesboro Unlimited was formed in 1986 to advance economic development in Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. 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.