East Arkansas population decline tied to lack of jobs

FORREST CITY (Times-Herald) - A recent report on population losses in rural counties holds true in St. Francis, and according to County Judge Gary Hughes, highlights the need for his "on demand" tax proposal to help attract jobs.

According to the U.S. Census, as of April 1, 2010, St. Francis County had a population of 28,258. By July 1, 2010, the population was 27,858, a drop of 400, or 1.4 percent.

"It's a trend that I think, is primarily based on lack of jobs, with the various closures of plants we've had over the past several years," Hughes said. "People need jobs. And if they don't have a job here, they have got to go where they can find work."

Hughes continued, "That's what this industrial development idea is, where we're hoping to have something to help bring jobs to the area."

The on-demand sales tax, if passed by voters, would go into effect to provide incentives, only if a company promised to locate and bring a minimum number of jobs to the county.

"I think that's the only way to stop the decline, to find a way to create more jobs," said Hughes. "And unfortunately, in order to create jobs any more, you have to have local incentives to entice companies to come to your area rather than another place.

"That's the reason the economic development tax is at the forefront, trying to give people an opportunity, because with that and some of the other opportunities we have, to create jobs for this area. Because that's where the key is."

Lee County also showed a loss, from 10,424 on April 1, 2010 to 10,216 on July 1, 2012. That is a loss of 208, or 2 percent.

Lee County Judge Jim Keasler said he is aware that rural counties are losing population.

"I think it's just a trend right now," he said. "Most of us seem to be in the Delta."

He said the U.S. Census figures appear to be following a pattern.

"Our loss had been 17 percent in the last census county wide, so that (2 percent) tracks pretty close to that," said Keasler. "There has to be a reason. And it all relates to job loss, and it seems certain that's where we're going. It seems that most of our growth here is from the inside, with businesses expanding."

While metropolitan areas in Arkansas showed growth, more rural counties showed declines in population.

During the time in question, Phillips County lost 2.8 percent of its population, Monroe County's population declined 4 percent, Cross County lost 1 percent, Crittenden County lost 1.7 percent and Woodruff County lost 2.2 percent.

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