Inflation overtakes the pandemic as the main economic threat to the region

In central Arkansas, we’ve seemingly gone from the pandemic being the biggest threat to the region’s economy to inflation taking the top spot.

Last week, Metroplan, the lead planning agency for the region’s five counties, cited inflation as the region’s main impediment to growth. “Inflation will be the key wildcard for the year ahead,” the report notes.

Central Arkansas, of course, is not alone. Inflation continues to rise across the country – the country’s annual inflation rate accelerated in March to 8.5% from 7.9% in February and the highest since December 1981. The inflation was 2.6% in March 2021.

Although the region has largely recouped the jobs lost during the pandemic – down by only about 1,100 workers from the pre-pandemic period – labor shortages remain a major obstacle to economic growth. The region’s available workforce is down about 2% since the pandemic.

“Labour shortages are an emerging reality for employers in the post-pandemic economy,” the report notes, adding that “workers are harder to find and keep these days.”

The outcome? Metroplan encourages employers to develop long-term strategies to attract and retain workers – no specifics are offered – while integrating new technologies that can keep production running.

Earlier in April, the Federal Reserve Bank, in its Beige Book report, noted that industries have been successful in adapting new technologies, although other issues such as supply chain bottlenecks are blocking parts shipments slow down growth and production.

Overall, central Arkansas lags the nation in economic growth, according to the report, although the region has outpaced the nation in financial activities, education and health, and other services.

“The region’s financial sector has been the most reliable provider of job growth over the past decade and correlates with a promising niche in [financial technology]“, says the report, noting that regional economic development officials are working to capitalize on the sector with a focus on increasing cybersecurity jobs.

In other areas, the report says:

• Federal money sent to consumers during the pandemic boosted retail sales in the region by nearly 11% last year, although dips can be expected as payments dried up and l inflation is likely to undermine spending.

• Housing costs remain a key advantage for central Arkansas, where prices are about 75% of the national average.

• The region’s population is increasingly diverse as the black and non-Hispanic population has increased by 11% and now represents almost a quarter of the region’s population. The white population has declined by 3.7% over the past decade.

Metroplan says the region is emerging from the pandemic in relatively healthy economic condition and could continue to grow taking advantage of favorable housing costs. Danger lurks, however, with uncertainty surrounding inflation, continued labor shortages and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

SOLAR ICE

Imperial Ice joins the list of Arkansas companies that are converting to solar energy.

The Little Rock ice cream supplier now has a 320 kilowatt solar panel in England, a system that will produce enough energy to offset energy consumption and save $857,000 over the next 30 years.

Delta Solar of Little Rock built the system. “Electricity was our biggest cost, and we were looking for ways to reduce that expense,” said Imperial Ice owner Mark Enderlin. “Solar was the right solution, but we didn’t have the space on our property to accommodate a system. Delta Solar provided an offsite location that allowed us to build a grid and significantly reduce our electricity bill. “

Imperial Ice takes advantage of Arkansas’ net-distance metering policy, which provides flexibility in the location of a solar panel. A system can be built anywhere within the same customer’s utility territory.

“We are always eager to help entrepreneurs in Arkansas explore the benefits of solar technologies for their operations,” said Douglas Hutchings, CEO of Delta Solar.

SBA RECOGNITION

Seven Arkansas small businesses are being recognized this week in various categories as part of National Small Business Week, which runs through May 7, and recognizes small businesses for their economic contributions.

“Our seven honorees embody the tenacity, diversity and community engagement that sustains our economy and our small businesses as we grow and recover,” said Edward Haddock, chief operating officer of SBA in Arkansas.

Here’s the best of Arkansas:

Jaim Krutz, owner of Big Cuppa, a craft coffee and roastery in Morrilton, is Arkansas Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year. Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center Recognized for Innovation Excellence for Providing Economic Development Support and Programs.

All Electric Supply of Little Rock was named Small Family Business of the Year for its work with non-profit organizations and support of other community businesses.

Latrobe of Port Arthur, Texas, founded by Stuttgart native Latanyua Robinson, is recognized as the Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year. Latrobe plays a key role in supporting community and economic development efforts throughout eastern Arkansas.

The veteran-owned small business of the year is Century 21 Sandstone Real Estate Group, which was established in Conway in 2008 as the first black-owned full-service real estate franchise in Arkansas. Career Staffing Services Inc. of North Little Rock was named Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year.

Looking to the future, Aidan Eslinger, now 16, is Arkansas’ Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He started his business in Mayflower when he was 8 years old and it now comprises three separate entities that coach young writers, produce original content for clients and create activities and incentives to encourage young black boys to read and to engage in studies.

AMAZON RENEWABLE

Amazon’s Arkansas expansion includes a 100-megawatt solar farm in Union County, part of the company’s global commitment to renewable energy. Last week, the company announced 37 new wind and solar energy projects across the United States and now has 310 renewable energy projects in 19 countries.

These plans are in line with Amazon powering its global operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, five years ahead of the company’s original 2030 goal.

Once operational, Amazon’s 310 projects are expected to produce 42,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy each year, enough electricity to power 3.9 million American homes annually.

Ideas for columns or recommendations? Any thoughts or daydreams that need to be pursued? contact me at [email protected] or at (501) 378-3567.

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