Economic growth in Northeast Arkansas is often tied to the city of Jonesboro, but there is at least one other community in the region that has had significant growth during the last half decade. In 2015, the city of Walnut Ridge collected $742,566 on its citywide 1% sales tax. That number has increased each year since then, and last year the city tallied almost $1.2 million – a nearly 45% increase.
Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp told Talk Business & Politics there are myriad reasons to explain the sales tax base expansion and other economic indicators that have risen dramatically in recent years.
“Walnut Ridge is poised for continued growth with the completion of State Highway 412 to Paragould, providing us with excellent infrastructure to Jonesboro and Paragould and beyond,” he said. “At the very least, I’m excited about the potential for future growth with Walnut Ridge’s placement as a key point of a highway system triangle that runs between Jonesboro, Paragould and here. The highway system configuration and the generalized growth that continues to develop throughout Northeast Arkansas has put Walnut Ridge on the map again.”
County sales tax collections for the city have followed a similar growth pattern. The city collected $318,252 in county sales taxes in 2015. That jumped to $534,310 in 2021, a nearly 67% jump.
Sales tax growth is not the only indicator of growth in the city. There were only four permits issued by the city to build residential houses in 2014. The number grew to 18 by the next year, and steadily increased to 81 permits issued in 2020. The city dipped to 67 in 2021.
Commercial permits issued by the city historically remained in the low single digits each year, but during the last five years the city has averaged 12.4 permits annually, nearly three-fold what it typically issued in the past.
“While we started picking up interest in construction in 2015, the significant jump came in 2019, when out of town investors started working alongside the investors from the Walnut Ridge area,” he said. “Although the 2019 jump in residential dwelling permits happened too late in the year for residents to be included in the 2020 Census, the financial benefit of the additional residential permits became more obvious on the 2020 sales tax chart.”
There are multiple reasons for this growth, Snapp said. Peco Foods began building a massive processing plant in Randolph County just a few miles from Walnut Ridge. Many people in Lawrence County work at the plant. Expansion along the I-57 corridor and expansion on U.S. 412 from Walnut Ridge to Paragould has spurred commerce.
Williams Baptist University has created and expanded several programs that have provided a jolt to the local economy, the mayor said. There are plans underway to build several apartment complexes and a subdivision expansion this year.
How big a role do you think Walnut Ridge will play in the future economic growth in the region?
“When you compare the increase in residential dwelling permits to our sales tax growth, it should be obvious how Walnut Ridge and Lawrence County are benefiting financially, from regional growth in Northeast Arkansas,” Snapp said.