rkansas ranks No. 1 in chicken egg production, No. 2 in cereal flours, No. 3 in rice, No. 4 in live fish, No. 7 in peanuts, No. 9 in spirits and liqueurs, No. 10 in cotton and turkey, and No. 11 in broilers. These nine products serve as the staples to most American diets and many processed food items that our country knows and loves. The state’s agricultural strength fuels the food and beverage industry across the nation and allows for goods to not only grow in the state, but to be manufactured into a final product and packaged all within Arkansas borders.
“Arkansas pretty much has the full life cycle of food production,” said Jarod Wickliffe, project manager for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. One example of this start-to-finish manufacturing is Frito-Lay, with its roots in Jonesboro for more than 20 years. “Think about everything that goes into those chips. When you buy them from the grocery store, everything could very well have been produced in Arkansas.”
When it comes to the food and beverage industry, Arkansas has a knack for getting it right the first time. The state has scored initial manufacturing facility investments from 388 food and beverage companies, and those same companies continue to reinvest in the state to expand operations to meet rising demand.
According to Business Facilities’ 2022 annual Rankings Report, the state took the No. 3 spot for food processing in the U.S. for the second year in a row. Between 2015 and 2020, the state brought in $2.3 billion in proposed investments, 94 food and beverage projects and 5,004 jobs, wholly cementing their place in the industry. In 2022, the state secured major expansion or manufacturing deals from Tyson Foods, Hostess Brands and Simmons Foods, just to name a few. Poultry, bakery products and pet food production are among the busiest food and beverage sectors in Arkansas at 15.32%, 23.12% and 11.83%, respectively.
Tyson Foods, which began in the 1930s in Springdale, demonstrates that there is no place
like home. The grocery store staple invested
$75 million into a new feed mill and hatchery in Fulton, northwest of Texarkana. With hopes to expand grower operations, the company aims to process 1.3 million chickens by 2024 and create 61 jobs.
In March 2022, Hostess Brands announced an investment to the tune of $120 million to $140 million for a new 330,000-square-foot bakery in Arkadelphia, transforming a once dormant factory. The site will serve to increase the company’s Donettes and cake production by 20%, bringing in about 150 new jobs.
Simmons Foods, whose products include both poultry and pet food, announced a $100 million expansion in January 2022 for its prepared foods operations. The investment will add 65,000 square feet to their site on the outskirts of Fort Smith, making way for two new automated production and packaging lines. The additions will introduce 100 new jobs with production expected to begin Q1 of 2023.
“These companies have continued to expand here and stay invested here. They made that initial decision to come here and through these opportunities I think it tells the story that they got it right the first time,” said Jonesboro Unlimited President and CEO Mark Young.
Not Just Working the Concession Stand
When it comes to advanced manufacturing, there is a consistent flow of innovation in machinery and production processes. Innovation that is met with a highly skilled workforce fit to keep production challenges at bay. Currently employing more than 53,000 workers in food and over 1,400 in beverage manufacturing, Arkansas holds the third largest percentage of food processing workers in the U.S., according to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Throughout the state, there are workforce training and education programs to ensure existing and future workers are equipped with the knowledge needed to work in the industry.
“It’s a testament to our local companies… They believe in the community, they believe in their workforce, they believe in the state of Arkansas.”
— Mark Young, Jonesboro Unlimited
“The partnerships that exist between our educational institutions and the companies both in our community and across the state are extremely strong,” said Mark Young. These partnerships have extended over several years, allowing talent to develop new skills and for businesses to conduct research locally.
“I think it’s a testament to our local companies,” said Young. “When you see them continue to invest in themselves in our community that sends a message that they believe in the community, they believe in their workforce, they believe in the state of Arkansas.”
Alexis Elmore joined Conway Data in 2022 as associate editor for Site Selection. A 2021 graduate of the University of Georgia, she studied journalism and communications before moving back to Atlanta to pursue her career. As an editor for Site Selection and contributor to Conway's Custom Content guides, she writes about economic development efforts and corporate growth happening around the globe.