Area employers are looking for workers as pandemic unemployment checks come to an end

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record

Across the nation, jobs are booming, and west central Arkansas is no different. Dozens of employers are struggling to find employees, as people begin to venture back into the job market amid the pandemic. 

Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston estimated there are about 70,000 jobs available throughout the state, and although he could not provide a specific number for how many open jobs are in the Fort Smith area, he said that number is high in the region as well. 

Statewide, Arkansas' unemployment rate sits at 4.4%, while in the Fort Smith area it is a little lower at about 4.3%.

The state's additional unemployment benefit payments under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ended June 27. Preston said that companies are already receiving more applications since the end of the program.

Weather Barr Windows & Doors, 6500 South Zero St., is now hiring. The Fort Smith company is among many in the region with open positions following the COVID-19 pandemic slow-down.

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Tonya Fletcher, the executive director of the Paris Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that some people had to stay home from work to care for their children while school was not in session. All area schools met in person during the last academic year but gave the option for kids to learn from home. 

Miles Crawford — the CEO of TRAC Staffing in Fort Smith, which works to connect workers with jobs — pointed out that people are also in a unique time, where they have experienced more time with family and friends and are in a position to really evaluate what they want in their work. 

“It’s something that, as a workforce as a whole, we’ve never experienced," Crawford said.

The Fort Smith job market is exploding with open positions. Rheem Manufacturing, at 4100 S Zero St., has open positions and is looking for employees.

Job seekers' market

Employers are using innovative ways to try to draw in applicants, Crawford said. They are offering more generous paid time off and benefits. He is also seeing employers offer higher salaries than Crawford has seen in the area. 

“Job seekers are absolutely in the driver's seat right now," Crawford said. 

Crawford advises employers to be as inventive as possible when thinking about ways to entice people to work at their companies. He recommended that employers offer shorter or less demanding shifts. They can also offer more flexible work options, such as the ability to work from home. 

There are approximately 70,000 jobs available in Arkansas. Klein Tools, at 6506, 5721 Zero St., is now hiring.

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Preston noted that another reason there are more jobs available is that companies are creating more jobs. 

Hytrol Conveyor Company opened its second manufacturing facility in Fort Smith, creating 250 jobs. Gerber added 50 new jobs. Mars Petcare's expansion produced 120 jobs.

Throughout Logan County, jobs are open as well. Susan Bulger, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of South Logan County/Booneville and Magazine, said most businesses are hiring. 

In Booneville, Rockline Industries has about 50 jobs open as does the Booneville Human Development Center, Bulger said. 

In Paris, Fletcher knows of 10 businesses that have at least one job opening in the city. 

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“There are more jobs right now than probably job seekers," Fletcher said. 

Carrie Hudgens, assistant manager of the dirt division at Forsgren Inc., said that while it is always a struggle to find skilled laborers, it has been more difficult throughout the past few months. 

Employers say it is difficult to find employees in the current job market. Arkhola Materials, at 5473 Zero St., has open positions and is looking for employees.

The city of Fort Smith has more than 50 job openings, said recruiter Lindsey Kaelin. Over the last year, the number of available positions has drastically risen. Not only is it difficult to get people to apply for jobs, it is also difficult to get them to show up to their job interviews. 

“It’s not just us as an employer. It’s not just Fort Smith as a city but it’s nationwide," said Rick Lolley, the city's director of human resources.