OSCEOLA, AR (KAIT) - Mississippi, Crittenden and St. Francis Counties have the highest unemployment rates in Region 8. In Osceola and Blytheville, a national slowdown in steel manufacturing has caused the steel industry to scale back.
Clif Chitwood, Economic Developer for Mississippi County, said he expects 2009 to be a better year for the county's economy.
"We are an economy heavily dependent on steel production. With President-Elect Barack Obama talking about spending $300 Billion or so on infrastructure projects, roads, bridges, schools. Roads, bridges, schools all need steel," said Chitwood.
The steel industry is one of the most prominent in Mississippi County. Nucor-Yamato and Nucor-Hickman are among many other plants that employ hundreds of people.
"The worldwide economics have an impact on our industries," said Steve McGuire, Mississippi County Judge.
McGuire and Chitwood said the county has a number of reasons to be optimistic in 2009.
"We have complete confidence that both, all the steel industry, will come back up to a good level fairly quickly," said Chitwood.
"As a lot of communities are going to need those infrastructure projects to be in their community to have an upward economic impact, with us, as long as they're in the United States, we stand to benefit," said Chitwood.
According to McGuire, Arkansas Northeastern College has been a major player in keeping people employed in the county. Chitwood said the school can add to the county's unemployment rate.
"It throws a couple of points onto Mississippi county's unemployment rate which really isn't there," Chitwood.
Chitwood said the fact that many people go to college instead of work is another reason the county's unemployment rate is so high. Seasonal businesses, such as American Greetings in Osceola, can also tack on a few percentage points.
"We have some large seasonal industries here, particularly American greeting, largest industry in county," said Chitwood.
Despite disappointing numbers, the state of Arkansas has a 5.7% unemployment rate. That number is smaller than surrounding states.
"Our entire state is better off than most others states, and certainly counties are as well," said McGuire.
Chitwood said he has two different sites within Osceola that he is marketing to international prospects this year, and said there is a good chance of attracting new business.
Mississippi County's near future prospects in this, what they are now calling the great recession," said Chitwood.
"We're going to continue to hold to that strategy of heavy industry, because that's where our strengths are," said Chitwood.
Region 8 Unemployment Rates
Clay County - 7.5%
Craighead County - 4.4%
Crittenden County - 8.3%
Cross County - 6.9%
Fulton County - 5.1%
Greene County - 6.5%
Independence County - 6.6%
Izard County - 6.8%
Jackson County - 7.0%
Lawrence County - 6.0%
Mississippi County - 7.9%
Poinsett County - 5.8%
Randolph County - 7.4%
St. Francis County - 8.5%
Sharp County - 6.8%
Stone County - 5.8%
White County - 5.3%
Woodruff County - 6.8%