Local unemployment climbs, but officials are optimistic

Unemployment numbers for both Pine Bluff and Jefferson County increased from December to January, but local business and community leaders expressed optimism for the future.

Data provided by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services on Friday show that Pine Bluff’s jobless number rose from 11.3 percent in December to 12.6 percent in January.

Data for Jefferson County shows that the jobless rate rose from 10 percent in December to 11.1 percent in January.

For January the municipality with the highest unemployment rate was West Memphis with 11.8 percent and the lowest rate in Arkansas was found in Fayetteville where a rate of 4.6 percent was registered.

Lee County had the highest January figure with a 13.8 percent unemployment rate and Benton County had the lowest with 6 percent.

Business view

Better economic prospects are in the offing according to Chris Hart, vice president of human resources and quality assurance at Central Moloney Inc. in Pine Bluff.

“What we are seeing is the potential for the imminent return of high numbers of new housing starts,” Hart said Friday. “This is not only good news for manufacturers of electrical transformers but also for utilities as well as construction workers and financial lenders. We see this growth in the housing sector to last throughout 2014 and into early 2015.”

Hart said that his company is ready for the expected increase in business.

“We are well on our way with construction of an additional 9,000 square feet of warehouse space,” Hart said. “We plan to fill that space with new transformers in order to deliver on our goal of responding to the immediate needs of our customers. We have done everything we can do to prepare for the rebound so we are very comfortable in what we expect to happen in the housing sector.”

Academic perspective

Carla Martin is Dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“As we utilize the economic sales tax dollars more I expect to see more companies make Pine Bluff their home,” Martin said. “Right now it’s difficult to keep students here when it’s time for graduation because job opportunities have not been overly abundant and what jobs are open don’t pay as much as in other areas.”

Martin said an influx of businesses with good-paying jobs will encourage graduating students to stay in Pine Bluff.

“People will want to stay so there will be no need to go out and sell the city,” Martin said. “And companies won’t have to pay for relocation costs. Right now our graduates are heading to Texas or Missouri and to other border states and some are even settling in Little Rock.”

Martin said that as a Pine Bluff native, it is hard for her to see graduates head to other cities for employment.

“We have to talk positively about Pine Bluff,” Martin said. “If we don’t talk positively about our town, then who will?”