Poinsett County unemployment high, but why?

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

POINSETT COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Unemployment numbers have skyrocketed in recent months in every county in the Region 8 viewing area. In Poinsett County, the unemployment rate went from 6.9% in May to 8.3% in June. According to the Harrisburg and Trumann Chambers of Commerce, the reasons unemployment spiked in June were from unseasonably wet weather for agriculture and graduating seniors in high school and college.

"It didn't hit us as hard at first and we didn't feel it as quick as big cities and other places," said David Owens, Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce.

Owens said he's talked with several farmers over the last few months. He said many of them have had to let go of part-time and full-time help because they had nothing to do.

"The weather has been a big issue that's impacted us here. It's went from real wet to real dry back to as you see it, real wet now so I think that's been a big problem here in our community," said Owens. "They can't hold on to the number of employees as they could in the past to wait and see or speculation to what was going to happen in the near future. I think they've had to make some decisions that they didn't have to make in the past due to the farm bill and the wet weather."

Owens said he's concerned with the unemployment rate, but not worried. Rusken Manufacturing, which is currently taking applications, plans to open for business September 1st.

"Initially I think startup is going to be 50 employees here in Harrisburg and then a couple of years out, up to 200 and that could really impact our county and really our city here, but in our county, it's going to pull people that are willing to work and needing jobs and help us out tremendously," said Owens.

Owens said another reason he isn't worried is that the ASU Delta Center had been helping different municipalities within the county to work together, through its Powering Rural Development program.

"We're working on packaging an economic development plan and not only looking at our city and focusing on what can we do with Harrisburg, which is very important to us, but we're now looking, what can we do for Poinsett County," said Owens. "If there's a factory interest or someone, a small business, if they want to go to Trumann instead of Harrisburg, we're looking at it as, hey, that'll be beneficial to Poinsett County."

"With the economy the way it is across the united states, we've not been affected as quick, now we're seeing it kind of get in more, and of course, we're so ag strong here, with the problems we've had, we're seeing it more, but again, with Rusken coming in, it looks like that's going to be a good breath of fresh air and really help us, and when you take 200 jobs in Harrisburg makes a big difference," said Owens.

Owens said the city of Harrisburg hasn't had many layoffs since early this year.

"We just haven't had much, I mean, like we talked about the school being our biggest employer and after that, we just haven't had much," said Owens.

The Trumann Chamber of Commerce is in a bit of a different place. Anthony Patterson said Parker Manufacturing is adding a new line to their current plant. The city has added 10 retail businesses as well, according to Patterson.

"In a tough economy, a lot of people have to be creative, and a lot of people have turned away from industry and started private retail businesses and we're seeing a lot of that in Trumann," said Patterson.

Patterson said the increase of people into the workforce is usually larger during the summer months, when graduating high school and college seniors begin looking for work.

"Statistically you have people graduating college and high school entering into the workforce, applying for jobs, and I think that has a large effect on that rise we see every year from May to June," said Patterson. "When they graduate high school or graduate college, they're entering the labor force, and if they're trying to find a place of labor to work, then we see a rise in those who are applying for jobs at that time."

Patterson said there are slightly over 11,000 people are in the Poinsett County workforce.

"This has been a very wet season this year, especially for the ag industry and this is an ag county, most of the economy here is run through the ag industry, and the unseasonably wet weather has caused a lot of farmers not to get in the field as often and a lot of their laborers have had to file for unemployment," said Patterson.

Patterson said he hopes to continue working with other cities within the county.

"It's a cooperative effort so we can see the needs of the whole county rather than just focusing in on each individual community, by doing that, resources that we might not have, someone else may have, opportunities that we may not be able to provide, another community can," said Patterson.

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