CORNING/PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Unemployment numbers are out and more people were out of work in July than in June of this year, according to statistics released by the Arkansas Department of Labor. Clay County experienced one of the largest increases at 11.2%, up .8%. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was in Paragould Tuesday for the Arkansas Works Education and Economic Development Summit. He told Region 8 News the state has made attempts to retrain the workforce to improve the economy.
"We try to get communities to put themselves in the best posture to be able to receive new economic development opportunities, whether it's new companies or expanding existing companies," said Beebe.
Beebe told a crowd of people at the Black River Technical College Lecture Hall that education and the economy are intertwined.
"Workforce training, retraining, the opportunity to get people retooled, skilled for new and different opportunities is a part of what the state's obligation is," said Beebe.
Barry Sellers with the Clay County Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday told Region 8 News the status of the economy is relatively stable. He said fewer sectors are suffering as much as last year and some industries are expanding.
"L.A. Darling, who makes store fixtures for discount businesses, is actually adding people and bringing people on right now. That's kind of buffered us locally," said Sellers. "They specialize in the discount store industry. Companies like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Fred's; they're all doing pretty well in the economy because people cut back and go to discount retailers."
Sellers, who has been with the Clay County Area Chamber of Commerce for three years, said three of the four largest employers in the county left. He said a large portion of the county's workforce now works in Greene, Lawrence and Craighead counties.
"There's over 250 people in the Corning zip code that work for ARI (American Railcar Incorporated), one of their three plants. It doesn't just affect Paragould or Greene County. It affects the whole region," said Sellers.
Sellers said Clay County has joined the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition, Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Transportation Authority and the U.S. Highway 67 Coalition. He said the county is trying to develop regional interests for prospective employers and industries.
"We're working as a region. We're not just fighting the battle alone," said Sellers. "If Piggott gets a factory, that's good for Corning. If Corning gets a factory, that's good for Rector."
Sellers said Corning passed a sales tax measure when he arrived on the job. He said there are many challenges small communities face in attracting potential clients.
"Corning does not have a 4-lane highway. Corning does not have a college. Corning does not have a hospital. We are in a region within a 30-mile radius, we have 6 colleges, 4 hospitals and 2 4-lanes," said Sellers.
"Each community has its assets, its strengths. They need to accentuate those things. Each community has weaknesses that they need to work on," said Beebe. "We got some areas of the state that are doing very well and are withstanding the recession pretty well, and then we got some areas of the state that are hurting. Regardless if you're in a good area or not, if you don't have a job, if you've lost your job or if your company has gone out or your business has gone out, then it's not a good day."
"When Little Rock got the 1,000 person factory and Jonesboro got the 500 person factory, we would like to maybe get the 200 person factory and supply parts. We'd like to be a tier-1 or tier-2 supplier, then we make parts for this factory, which makes parts for this factory and we're all winning that way," said Sellers.
Sellers said he hopes to be catching the tail end of an economic downturn.
"We've been a little bit insulated. Jonesboro and Paragould have always been oasis' in the desert in the delta and they've even had some layoffs here in the last year," said Sellers.
Tuesday in Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession appears to be over. He said there are signs the recovery process has begun.
"Short term funding markets are functioning more normally. Corporate bond issuance has been strong and activity in some previously moribund securitization markets has picked up. Stock prices have partially recovered and U.S. mortgage rates have declined markedly since last fall. Critically, fears of financial collapse have receded substantially. After contracting sharply over the past year, economic activity appears to be leveling out, both in the United States and abroad. And the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good," said Bernanke. "If we do in fact see moderate growth, but not growth much more than the underlying potential growth rate, then unfortunately unemployment will be slow to come down. It will come down, but it may take some time. Obviously that's a very serious concern, and that's one reason why even though from a technical perspective, the recession is very likely over at this point, it's still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time."
Region 8 News asked Beebe for his response to Bernanke's statement.
"I hope the fed chairman is right. I hope we've seen the end of the recession and it's headed the other way. I certainly don't have any crystal balls or any magic potions to be able to tell if that's true or not. Anecdotally we see some signs. We see real estate sales are up from the last couple of months. We see some improvement in some areas of the economy, but we still got a lot of people out of work and we still got a lot of people that are unemployed. Also, if they're working, they're working less hours," said Beebe.
Beebe said 22,000 jobs have been created in the state of Arkansas over the last two years.
"We have withstood this so much better... Even though we've lost a lot of jobs, we've replaced some of them too with some new opportunities," said Beebe. "Business retention probably saves more jobs than creating new jobs with new companies coming in. So people just need to understand that they need to frequent their local businesses, take care of their local merchants, and take care of their local retailers."
"The most important thing is keeping the jobs you got. Business retention and expansion is the hot word right now. So we want to work with our existing industries and employers to make sure they're happy here, want to stay here and want to grow here," said Sellers.
"I think we still got some tough times ahead, but we just need to all work together to try to put Arkansas in the best possible light. We also have to remember, Arkansas is so much better off than most of the country," said Sellers.