Mix of traditional industries, new technologies envisioned in the future of Northwest Arkansas jobs, agriculture

Many people who move to Northwest Arkansas are going to need a job.

Mike Harvey of Northwest Arkansas Council said the new jobs could come from companies that diversify. Companies such as Tyson Foods, JB Hunt and Walmart have shown over the years their willingness to be the first to adopt advanced technologies in their specific industries, he said.

“I think from an economic standpoint we obviously want to support and nurture what’s here, the people who brought us here, these big sectors like retail, food logistics, education and I would add health care to that. Obviously it’s going to look a lot different in 25 years, “Harvey said.

Logistics and supply chain management could become even more important for the region, he said. Northwest Arkansas could also become a center for supply chain technology, autonomous vehicles or air mobility, like last mile delivery by drones or electric vehicles.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville also influences employment sectors.

“There are so many potential pockets of innovation out there from the agricultural sector, food science, animal science, in the areas of technology transfer and commercialization to the technology park, like electric propulsion and battery technology. and medical diagnoses, ”Harvey said.

Washington and Benton counties have long been strong in agriculture, generally leading the state in the value of agricultural products.

Wayne Miller, a professor and economist in the Agriculture System Division at the University of Arkansas, expects fewer acres to be used for agriculture as the region and its land prices rise.

Miller said farmers are going to have to turn to higher-value crops to maintain profitability when the cost of land rises, to get more income per acre per farm.

Planning and zoning are going to be key to agriculture in Northwest Arkansas, he said. Cities will need to keep some land zoned for agriculture if they are to preserve the industry, he said.

“If there really is no zoning, the demand for this land – the value of this land for subdivision development – will be much higher than what you can raise beef cattle on,” he said. -he declares.

Poultry is Arkansas’ largest agricultural sector. Northwestern Arkansas, particularly Washington and Benton counties, produces the most poultry in the state. Production could increase if the barns are built close to each other, Miller said.

There are several large poultry processing plants in Washington County each employing over 1,000 workers. Simmons Foods Inc. and its affiliates opened a $ 300 million chicken processing plant in western Benton County in October 2019. The plant is located along Arkansas 59 between Decatur and Gentry on 870 acres. Simmons officials said when the plant opened that it had the potential to reach 2,300 employees by 2022.

Besides poultry, Miller predicted that farmers will focus on higher value crops such as vegetables and fruits.

“Canning has declined in the region over the past two decades, but it could come back if you produce more of these fruits and vegetables,” he said.

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