By Bill Conroy
What the locals say
The Natural State’s economy is stuck in slow motion.
The Natural State, Arkansas’ official nickname, holds claim to being the
home state of former President Bill Clinton, born in 1946 in Hope; and of
legendary country-folk singer Johnny Cash, born in 1932 in Kingsland.
Arkansas also is the home state of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., or Walmart, the
world’s largest retailer, which first opened in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas.
Today, the corporate behemoth, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, employs
about 2.3 million people worldwide, operates some 12,000 stores in 28 nations and had fiscal-year 2017 revenues exceeding $485 billion — a figure
that is four times larger than Arkansas’s gross domestic product (GDP) in
2016 of $121 billion. Some 1,300 Walmart suppliers currently have a presence in Northwest Arkansas, most within 30 miles of the retail giant’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville.
Agriculture has long been a major driver of the Arkansas economy, representing some 10 percent of the state’s economy, according to a University
of Arkansas Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability study. The Natural State is home to more than 45,000 farms spanning 13. 8 million acres,
according to Farm Flavor Media. Arkansas is the nation’s top producer of
rice and ranks third in the production of poultry and catfish, according to
the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC).
Although agriculture is at the heart of the Arkansas economy, it is manufacturing, particularly related to food processing and production, that is the
state’s leading industry sector, representing nearly 15 percent of total state
output, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Manufacturing jobs account for nearly 15 percent of employment in the
One of the world’s largest meat producers, Tyson Foods, is based in Arkansas,
and employs some 115,000 people worldwide. In addition, a world-leading
miller and marketer of rice, Riceland Foods, also is based in Arkansas. Other
food-product manufacturers that have a significant presence in the state
include Frito-Lay, Peco Foods and Ozark Mountain Poultry — which, along
with Tyson, have each undertaken multimillion-dollar plant expansions in
the past two years, according to the AEDC.
Despite Arkansas’ quite formidable corporate lineup, the state’s $121 billion
economy has not fared well in recent years, posting an anemic 0.8 percent
growth rate in 2016, according to an analysis by the University of Arkansas
at Little Rock Institute for Economic Advancement (IEA). That compares to a
1.5 percent GDP growth rate in 2016 for the nation as a whole.
In addition, the state’s GDP growth rate has fallen below the U.S. mark since
2013, with 2015 being particularly pronounced — 0.2 percent for Arkansas
vs. the U.S. rate of 2.6 percent. n
Home sales and prices
Home sales and prices in Arkansas have been on a sustained upward
march, with home sales up 40 percent and average sales price up by
20 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to figures from the
Arkansas Realtors Association. Home prices in Arkansas, according to
data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), rose 1.2 percent
this past first quarter.
Still, home prices in Arkansas have increased at a slower pace than the
growth in home prices nationally. Over the four quarters ending this past
first quarter, Arkansas home prices rose 4.2 percent, the IEA reports. That
compares to a 6. 7 percent jump in home prices nationally over the same
period. Over the 2 years ending this past first quarter, Arkansas home
prices, based on the FHFA index score, jumped by 6. 6 percent, compared
with the national home-price appreciation rate of 11. 3 percent over the
Arkansas Home Sales
Source: Arkansas Realtors Association
Houses sold Average price
*Average price based on 17,381 home sales year to date through June 2017
President, Arkansas Realtors Association
“The [Arkansas] housing market is great; everyone is busy, with
a lot of transactions. When you get off into our really rural areas, though, it’s not as robust as it is in Little Rock, or Northwest
Arkansas or the Jonesboro area. … We have new construction here,
but builders are experiencing labor and lot-shortage issues. …
I think the road ahead is optimistic, however. I think over next year
or so we’ll do well, unless rates get outrageous, but I don’t see