Two years ago, Jonesboro Unlimited started a five year plan to directly bring 2,500 new jobs to Northeast Arkansas’ hub city, and another 2,600 indirect or induced jobs. Dubbed “Momentum Jonesboro,” the plan is likely to far outpace its original targets, JU Chairman Chris Barber said at the private partnership’s annual meeting Thursday (Feb. 7) on the Arkansas State University campus.
Five business sectors were targeted. Agriculture, advanced manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and professional services such as engineering, IT, and accounting are the focus of the campaign.
In those sectors, 916 full-time jobs were created in 2018, and in 2017 another 1,258 jobs were created, meaning the original goal for direct jobs is 87% complete, he said. At least 375 jobs were created in the healthcare industry, while 323 were created in the manufacturing industry. Capital investments by businesses in the city have topped more than $200 million during the last two years, Barber added.
“These numbers are an impressive reminder of how strong Jonesboro’s economy continues to be. Adding over 900 jobs across our five targeted industries shows that Jonesboro continues to be a city where companies want to invest and grow,” said Mark Young, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO. “In 2016, we set out with the goal of 2,500 direct, new jobs. Two years into our five-year plan, we are almost 90% of the way to hitting that mark.”
It was announced Thursday that the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has designated Jonesboro through its Competitive Communities Initiative. The CCI is designed to identify ways a community can be more competitive with regard to their economic development organizational structure, their economic development funding, their workforce, and their product readiness, according to AEDC.
“There are many exciting things happening in Jonesboro that make the city a strong example of what a competitive community looks like,” said AEDC Executive Director Mike Preston. “From utility capacity to business and industry to education, city leaders have demonstrated that Jonesboro is prepared and has a plan for economic and community development.
Agriculture and related businesses are a natural fit for Jonesboro. The area is dominated by rice, soybean, and cotton farms. Food processing has become a significant industry sector in the city, and it would make sense to expand on that base. One area the group will target in the manufacturing sector is pharmaceutical production. Most pharmaceuticals are manufactured in the Northeast, but many companies are searching for new places to make their products. The city has low utility rates that could entice these industries to move to Arkansas or encourage others to expand, he said.
Jonesboro’s location and the recent designations of I-555, and future I-57 as freeways could make the city a logistics titan in the mid-south, Barber said. Two of the area’s largest employers, St. Bernards and the NEA Baptist Health System, have transformed the city into a healthcare hub with an array of clinics and other facilities that lure thousands to the city each day. Expansion on this front will be key to future economic development.
This year, Barber said the JU members will have several meetings with site consultants. About 70% of all economic development projects that move forward in the U.S. have a site consultant or a firm involved, so it will be imperative to work with consultants, he said.
A new video completely shot in Jonesboro was released Thursday, JU Communications Director Craig Rickert said. The video shows different aspects of living in the city and shows the benefits of living in the city. The video will be pushed through JU’s social media channels.
The goal of the video is to give prospective industry partners a glimpse of what it is like to live and work in Jonesboro, Rickert said. A film crew spent several months last summer filming in spots all over the city.