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Population growth sustains retail and healthcare markets

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The old adage is certainly taken to heart in Jonesboro.

Amid the uncertainty of the recent recession, Jonesboro has become a beacon of resiliency and steadfast performance, resulting in much-deserved attention in nearly every aspect of commercial development. In fact, the Jonesboro MSA is one of only 54 U.S. metros that had gains in total employment between pre-recession November 2007 and post-recession November 2011. According to Garner Economics, a look at November 2011 employment shows that only 54 metros, or 15 percent, are at levels exceeding their November 2007 totals, which was one month before the recession officially started.

Jonesboro has continued to increase its population, growing at a very respectable 2 to 2.5 percent per year for the past three decades and counting. This steady, consistent growth in population and tax base has made Jonesboro a huge attraction for expansion, particularly in the retail and healthcare segments of the market.

2011 saw just under 300 commercial building permits issued at a value of more than $250 million dollars, and nearly $40 million dollars worth of permits were issued in the first quarter of 2012.

Investment in new infrastructure and facilities by healthcare providers is developing at a staggering pace. St. Bernards Healthcare, the market’s legacy provider with more than 100 years of service to the community, recently opened a 55,000-square-foot Health & Wellness Center to anchor its investment in the Medical Mile, which connects Arkansas State University to downtown Jonesboro. Additionally, St. Bernards recently announced a partnership with Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in nearby Paragould to develop a similar campus there, just 11 miles down the road in the Jonesboro/Paragould combined statistical area.

NEA Baptist Healthcare is in the middle of an impressive new facility that will boast more than 750,000 square feet of clinic and hospital space under one roof. The system is investing more than $400 million dollars into the new campus on the main corridor between Jonesboro and Paragould.

But the growth isn’t just in healthcare. The retail and restaurant segment of the market has exploded, with several regional and national chains already open or under construction.

The Mall at Turtle Creek opened in 2006, the only enclosed shopping mall to open that year in the entire nation. Last year, it boasted more than 11 million visitors. The mall has fueled expansion and growth throughout the city. In addition to the impressive retailers that occupy the mall, other businesses have followed their lead into the market.

Red Lobster, Chili’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, Panera Bread, Cheddar’s Fast Casual and Olive Garden are among a growing number of chain restaurants that have opened in Jonesboro. Retailers like Kohl’s, Academy Sports+Outdoors, Office Depot, LifeWay and Kirkland’s have or are following suit, with a host of other announcements in the works for the coming months.

The next phase of retail development will be anchored by the new Shoppes at Caraland, a sprawling, modern development under construction at the site of the former Indian Mall. When completed, the Shoppes at Caraland will boast an eclectic mix of retailers and restaurants on a 30-acre site in the heart of the city’s retail district and near 14 acres purchased by the city for the development of two new hotels and a 75,000-square-foot convention center.

These segments, along with a strong manufacturing base that continues to grow and the consistent growth of Arkansas State University, show why we’re excited about the future of Jonesboro.

And it isn’t just the locals who are singing the city’s virtues. Jonesboro and Craighead County were recently named the top market in the nation that could be the “next Silicon Valley” by Business Insider magazine, one of the Top 10 cities where you can live for less by Kiplinger and one of the “50 Best Small Cities for Jobs & Careers” by Forbes.

— Gary Harpole is the chief operating officer of Jonesboro-based NAI Halsey

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