In a year that saw the arrival of a pandemic, most businesses and industries locally have survived, said Bob Largent, president and CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was addressing the members of the Boone County Quorum Court on Tuesday night, delivering his fourth quarter 2020 Economic Development Update.
Largent focused on the impacts of COVID-19. He noted there was 1,000 unemployed in late April, but industries have come back strong. Most businesses are still seeing production increases.
“We are extremely fortunate that we had state leadership and local leadership that has kept businesses in business,” he said. Arkansas avoided the lengthy shutdowns that were experienced in many other places around the country.
Investment continues to rise. Prime businesses last year invested almost $6 million in their local businesses. There are forecasts for over $11 million in investment that is known of, Largent said.
Main Street business, (retail) have invested $31 million to date. It’s forecasted that investment will rise to $10.5 million.
Total of all investments made and forecast is $64.6 million, which is up $6.3 million from last Sept. 30, Largent said.
Among new businesses and expansions recently publicized have been Dunkin’ Donuts; Planet Fitness, Walmart expansion of its vision center, and the Wood Motor Co.'s purchase of Gage Power Sports and its plan locate a Honda/Polaris motor sports business on the former Flexsteel property on the US. 62-65-412 Bypass.
He went off-script to talk about two programs that will have an economic impact in the future.
The community was one of five in the state that received a Community Catalyst Project grant from Entergy, University of Central Arkansas and the University of Southern Mississippi. This provides training and resources to complete small projects that have an impact in the community on a regular basis. That grant was awarded last March, but due to the pandemic nothing could get started until late October.
A grant valued at about $35,000 is allowing four local leaders to participate in the Retail Academy run by Retail Strategies, one of the largest retail recruiters in the country. He said research provided by the Academy notes that Walmart stores are considered the center of retail areas throughout the country.
Largent said the local retail area has a daytime population of 65,000. There is a $9.5 million market area. There are only goods and services available to fill about $8.1 million. “That tells you there’s a gap, and we have the ability now to go back and fill the gap.”
There have been 60 new jobs since Jan. 1, and more than 160 new jobs are projected in the months ahead.
Unemployment is down to 4.5% (from 10.7% in April).
There are 125 available jobs today in prime businesses. some companies are offering sign-on bonuses, Largent observed.
Numerous outreach discussions are ongoing with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Entergy and commercial real estate developers. There’s a lot going on, Largent said.
Largent will present the same information to the Harrison City Council when it meets Thursday night.