When poultry giant Peco Foods opens the doors to the processing plant it is building in Pocahontas, it will bring between 1,000 and 1,200 jobs to Randolph County.
Combined with other related agriculture operations and nonagriculture businesses knocking down the door to build in northeast Arkansas, officials expect between 1,200 and 1,500 new jobs in the next 12 months.
“We’ve never had a growth spurt like that in our history,” says Tim Scott, director of the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce. “We have never seen that many opportunities for employment open in that span of time in this county.”
A Ripple Effect
The northeast part of the state has seen an increase in agriculture industry businesses pop up recently. Peco has processing plant, hatchery and live operation offices in Batesville, a feed mill in Newark, and the soon-to-be-opened facility in Pocahontas.
Ozark Mountain Poultry has also expanded processing operations into the northeast, and two peanut drying and storage facilities have opened.
As the agriculture industry expanded into this region, other businesses and national chains followed.
“There are some retail and food service-oriented businesses that we’ve tried to get here for years who are now contacting us instead of the other way around,” Scott says. “It’s amazing.”
As job opportunities increase and population grows, so does Pocahantas, Scott says. Randolph County is seeing new fast food chains where it used to have none, multiple grocery store chains, dental offices and legal firms.
“We’re seeing lots of increased interest,” he says. “We have changed dramatically over the past 15 years.”
Increased Employment And Tourism Opportunities
With the influx of new businesses, Randolph County’s unemployment numbers are easing.
“We used to consistently be in double digits when it came to unemployment,” Scott says. “Now, we’re down to between 7 and 9 percent, which is really good.”
And these businesses and jobs are helping out other areas of the state economy. Tourism is an important industry in Arkansas, particularly in Randolph County.
“Tourism is right behind agriculture as one of our best economic incentives in the county,” Scott says. The tourism industry contributes more than $16 million per year to the economy and has a great impact on the region.
A Booming Poultry Industry
Poultry companies Peco Foods and Ozark Mountain Poultry both have a well-established tradition of innovative business practices in the industry.
Peco is the eighth-largest poultry producer in the United States, processing 24 million pounds of poultry per week at its facilities in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. Ozark Mountain began in Rogers in northwest Arkansas, and produces around 4 million pounds of hand- deboned poultry per week in three statewide locations.
“We’re a good state for poultry,” Scott says. “There’s a reason these producers and processors come here and stay here.”
Particularly in the northeast portion of Arkansas, conditions are ideal for agriculture. There is bountiful land for row crops, livestock and poultry houses.
“The biggest reason for these ideal conditions is our abundant water supply,” Scott says.
There are five rivers within the borders of Randolph County alone. “We have such great conditions here for agriculture, we really only expect to see this industry, and others with it, grow.”