Metroplan report shows ‘slow but steady growth’ for Central Arkansas

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 572 views 

A new report from Metroplan showed “slow but steady growth” for the Central Arkansas region of the state in 2023 as job growth, stronger GDP, and population increases boosted economic performance.

The regional analysis covers the Little Rock metropolitan statistical area (MSA), which includes Faulkner, Grant, Lonoke, Perry, Pulaski and Saline counties.

“The Little Rock regional area continues a pattern of slow but steady growth. By January of 2024, the region had 390,600 jobs, up 1.6 percent from 384,100 jobs a year previously. This was just a shade under U.S. job growth of 1.8 percent during the same interval,” the report stated.

Unemployment in the region hit record lows during 2023, at just 2.3% in April. In January 2023, the seasonally adjusted local unemployment rate was as high as 2.9%.

The report also showed that year-over-year job growth in three sectors showed healthy gains, while one sector – the retail/trade sector – slipped.

  • Health/Education +3,400
  • Leisure/Hospitality +2,500
  • Construction +2,200
  • Retail/Trade -1,800

Other statistics of note for Central Arkansas include:

  • Retail sales were up 3.2%
  • 8.9% GDP growth
  • 2.4% population growth

The population and GDP growth was strong in comparison to other regional cities, including Baton Rouge, LA; Jackson, MS; Memphis, TN; and Tulsa, OK. Central Arkansas was slower compared to the red-hot region of Northwest Arkansas where population growth jumped 11.5% and annual GDP rose 23.1%.

The Metroplan report also noted that housing construction in Central Arkansas was up slightly in 2023, but the number of new single-family units declined 16%, in part due to higher interest rates. Multi-family construction climbed about 27% last year.

“The Central Arkansas region seems to be prospering as mid-decade approaches, contrasting with slow performance during the 2010–2020 decade. As the GDP figures cited earlier in this report show, Central Arkansas outperformed most other similar sized metro areas in the U.S. south central region during the 2017–2022 period,” the report said.

“Growth in the region’s logistics capacity is probably the primary driving force, although its finance sector is an important engine, and the region has seen gains in corporate management. The local information sector, which spent the 2010 decade in the doldrums, has showed signs of growth lately. In any case, the region has a track record of avoiding major recessionary dips due to its economic structure, with a strong basis in recession-resistant industries like health care, education, and government.”

You can read the full report at this link.