Little Rock AFBCommunity
Employment & Economy in Pulaski and Lonoke Counties
Lush and hilly Little Rock has earned the top spot in Kiplinger’s “10 Great Places to Live.” Good jobs led the way in the evaluators’ September 2013 criteria, but affordable homes, strong schools and health care also factored in.
In August 2018, the unemployment rate in the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the suburbs of Cabot and Jacksonville, was 3 percent compared with 39 percent nationally. In 2013, Moody’s Investment Services rated Little Rock as the second most diverse economy in the nation, just a hair behind Chicago.
The Metro Little Rock Alliance, a coalition of 12 area counties that promotes business opportunities, job growth and worker education and retention, has found the strongest employment portals in aerospace; automotive; biotechnology; financial services; food processing; health care, logistics and distribution; software, information technology and telecommunications; tourism, entertainment, conventions and retirement; and nonprofits.
In May 2017, the most recent year for which figures were available, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported average hourly wages in the MSA at $21.05, about 12 percent below the national average of $4.57. However, the average cost of living also was lower: 87 percent of what it cost to live elsewhere, with housing (70 percent) the biggest saving, followed by health care (86 percent), groceries (93.3 percent) and transportation (98 percent).
Arkansas is one of the nation’s 28 right-to-work states in which employees cannot be forced to join a union or pay fees to be hired or hold a job.
Rail and Transit Access
The Arkansas River runs through green, well-watered Little Rock, a longtime transportation corridor and the divider between Little Rock and the traditionally more blue-collar North Little Rock. The Port of Little Rock on the riverbank has a busy 2,600-acre industrial park and foreign trade zone with easy access to Interstate 30 to the south and I-40, which crosses North Little Rock, and to other highways such as U.S. Highways 70, 67, 167 and 65. Clinton National Airport’s six airlines carry cargo and millions of passengers every year to national and international gateway cities.
Regional transportation planning is among the functions of Metroplan ( www.metroplan.org ), a collaboration of four counties, among them Pulaski and Lonoke, to address the region’s expanding needs.
Little Rock calls itself a “City in a Park,” and with more than 60 parks, green spaces and natural and recreational areas, its nearly 199,000 inhabitants have plenty of places to jog, fish, bird watch, bike or take in the blooming azaleas, dogwood and redbud trees in spring, or, come fall, autumn color. The mild climate and forested terrain, the rolling Ouachita Mountains to the west sloping eastward to the river delta, encourage sports, gardening and other outdoor activities from baseball and tennis to hunting, with concomitant jobs in those areas.
Though Pulaski County has its green and urban spaces, Lonoke County to the east is rural at heart, centered on crops, livestock, dairy and aquaculture operations and the small towns that support them. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry, an annual $16 billion sector, 25 percent of Arkansas’ economy, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. Half the land in the state is devoted to agriculture, with more crop production in the eastern third, and ranching and poultry more important in the north, west and south.
Arkansas is No. 1 in U.S. rice production, and Lonoke County is one of its principal rice producers, thanks to a water-resistant clay plate that underlies the county’s flat, rich alluvial soil that blankets the Grand Prairie. Soybeans also are important in both Lonoke and Pulaski counties, but hay, corn, cotton, wheat, vegetables, orchard fruits and nursery plants figure on the balance sheet as well.
Little Rock Air Force Base
According to the 2017 Little Air Force Base Economic Impact Statement, Little Rock AFB is the seventh-largest employer in Arkansas. The base is estimated to have an annual economic impact of $469.2 million, according to the report.
A quarter of the Civil Service workforce and 10 percent of active-duty Airmen lived in Jacksonville, but 32 percent of the Civil Service workers and 18 percent of the active-duty Airmen commuted from Cabot, 10 miles to the north in Lonoke County.