Manufacturing Going Strong in Arkansas

9 Sep, 2010

By: Maria Luisa M. Haley

Located in the center of America’s heartland, Arkansas is the natural location for your new or expanding business.


The state enjoys a strong manufacturing workforce, with approximately 15 percent of its workers employed in the sector, compared to approximately 10 percent nationally. Among the growing high-tech manufacturing industries in the state are aviation/aerospace, automotive parts, steel and “green” building materials.


With exports totaling more than $1.67 billion in 2009, the aviation and aerospace industry represents Arkansas’s number one value added export. This sector grew 19 percent last year, in large part because of the success several companies have enjoyed in Arkansas, which has led to their expansion here. The state’s 10,000 aerospace employees have an established track record in producing world-class, mission-critical products. These companies are located in several different regions of the state, with each region possessing a slightly different area of strength and focus. This has allowed Arkansas to provide a variety of attractive alternatives to prospects.


More than 80 companies employ approximately 12,500 Arkansans in the automotive parts sector. These suppliers make a variety of automobile parts, ranging from steel tire cord and exhaust tubing to radiators and truck bodies. The state’s location in proximity to a number of OEM facilities is one of the most compelling advantages of Arkansas for a supplier or another OEM.


Arkansas steel facilities have become known in the industry for their innovation and success. As a result, Arkansas is a leader in recycled steel production, with an annual capacity of more than 670,000 tons. Strategic location, a skilled workforce and competitive cost of doing business are some of the reasons the steel sector is among the 10 fastest growing sectors in the state. More than 8,400 Arkansans are currently employed in primary metal manufacturing with 80 facilities in the state. Arkansas also boasts a large fabricated metals sector with total employment of more than 16,700. 11 Arkansas counties report that at least 30 percent of their employment is in the metals industry.


In 2007, LM Wind Power announced plans to open a new facility in Little Rock. The plant, which began operations in 2008, is projected to employ more than 1,000 people. The Little Rock plant is the company’s third North American production facility, effectively doubling the capacity of the company’s existing factories. That growth has continued with three additional wind industry companies choosing Arkansas. Nordex USA, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of wind turbines, is building a $100 million facility in Jonesboro that will employ 700. Wind turbine manufacturer Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas, Inc. announced its intention to build a facility in Fort Smith in 2009, investing up to $100 million and employing as many as 400 people. In May 2010, Beckmann Volmer, a manufacturer of major steel components for wind turbines, announced it would locate a new manufacturing facility in Osceola that will employ 300 people. Arkansas is strategically located among the states with the greatest wind-generating capacity. This makes production, distribution and maintenance of wind turbine parts and systems advantageous.


In an effort to meet the needs of the state’s new, expanding and existing businesses and industries, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s (AEDC) Training and Quality Management Division offers two customized training programs. The Business and Industry Training Program (BITP) is a flexible program designed for new and expanding business and industry by helping these companies with recruiting workers, pre-employment training, on-the-job training, and train-the-trainer. The program also provides training assistance for existing businesses with new technology needs. The Existing Workforce Training Program (EWTP) provides financial assistance to Arkansas’s businesses and eligible consortia of businesses for upgrading the skills of the existing workforce. Skills upgrade training is instruction conducted in a classroom environment at a work site, an educational institution or a neutral location, that provides an existing, full-time employee with the new skills necessary to enhance productivity, improve performance and/or retain employment.


AEDC is proud to partner with six sister agencies to offer the Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate (CRC) to Arkansas companies at no cost. A “CRC” confirms to employers that an individual possesses basic workplace skills in Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, and Locating Information – skills that all jobs require. The program is based on an evaluation system called WorkKeys, created by American College Testing (ACT). ACT WorkKeys is a validated, EEO compliant system that is used to evaluate a job and compare the skills required by that job, with the skills that applicants currently possess. Job profiles are created utilizing existing (incumbent) employees to identify the skills required by a job. Utilizing a job profile created for a specific job and comparing the required skills of that job with the existing skills of an applicant allows the employer and the employee to determine if the applicant is a good match for the job.


Arkansas Works is Governor Mike Beebe’s strategic initiative to coordinate education, training and economic development in Arkansas communities. The program provides unemployed and underemployed Arkansans with career training and educational opportunities. A recent expansion of the program features a pilot program in the Arkansas College and Career Planning System that has hired and placed 43 full-time College and Career Coaches in 21 of Arkansas’s most economically challenged counties. The online resources will enable Arkansas students to become more proactive in planning their future education and career success beyond high school. Students, their parents or guardians, and educators can use the system from wherever they have computer access. Designed to guide students through the career planning process, the system opens the door for career awareness, college and career exploration, and supports preparation for enrollment and transition into postsecondary education and the world of work.


Arkansas's intermodal transportation network of highways, railways, air routes, waterways and pipelines is ideally suited to meet the needs of business. These facilities provide easy access to U.S. markets and the world. Midway between Mexico City and Montreal, Arkansas offers a valuable distribution advantage. The foreign trade zone at the Port of Little Rock is located in a new 104,000-square-foot building. Three foreign trade sub-zones are located in El Dorado, Forrest City and West Helena.


Arkansas offers a competitive array of incentives that include income tax credits, sales and use tax credits and refunds, and payroll rebates for new and expanding companies. The state’s performance-based incentives are nationally competitive and user-friendly. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission will focus on your business' specific needs, and design an incentive package to accommodate your needs. Job-creation incentives are based on payroll instead of number of jobs and use a tier system to determine the qualification criteria and benefits, depending on where the business locates or expands their operations in Arkansas. The tier system ranks each county, based on poverty rate, unemployment, per capita income and population growth.