Annual report: Housing construction 'soft spot' in Conway economy

Originally published: March 12, 2015 in the Log Cabin Democrat | Link to article

Roger Lewis, in his presentation of the Faulkner County Annual Economic Report to the Conway Noon Rotary Club, spoke Thursday on a downward trend in residential construction in Conway.

Lewis called the component of the 64th annual report a “soft spot in the economy.”

In 2014, 119 single-family homes were constructed in Conway, compared to 147 the prior year.

“That is a real problem in the city because it costs so much to grow,” he said. “Building affordable houses is kind of in the past.”

The decline in multi-family units or apartments saw less of a decline with 78 constructed last year compared to 92 in 2013.

Still, that number falls short of a boom in family-unit construction between 2008 and 2010.

Lewis said, as a result of the decrease in residential building, home values will likely increase with the need.

“Overall, construction has been pretty good,” he said, pointing to commercial developments as leading the charge for statistics such as building permit values.

Of the $140 million reported in building permit values issued last year, the majority was from commercial permits.

About $35.2 million in residential permit value was reported.

With commercial development projects such as Baptist Health Medical Center, Central Landing and Lewis Crossing, Lewis said Conway is poised to grow in the commercial sector.

 

Employment Figures

Conway began 2014 with an unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent. That number declined to 4.9 percent by the end of the year, only after increasing slightly from about 4.6 percent in November 2014.

Across Faulkner County, the percentage was slightly below Conway’s at about 7.8 percent in January 2014, ending the year in December with unemployment at a rate of 5.1 percent, higher than that of Conway.

Statewide and U.S. figures presented slightly higher figures in terms of unemployment by the end of 2014 – 5.6 percent and 5.4 percent in December, respectively.

Faulkner County has 2,809 employers in the county, according to the annual economic report. Of the employers, about 6,841 employees work in government and 33,366 work in the private sector.

 

Economy at a Glance

Faulkner County 1/2 cent sales tax receipts in 2014 were in the amount of about $8.27 million, a $178,154 increase from the prior year.

Conway reported 1 percent sale tax receipts in the amount of about $12.9 million, an increase of $104,018 from 2013.

In terms of 2014 retail sales, Conway accounted for 76.3 percent of county sales at about $1.4 billion.

Lewis said the sales tax receipts are a sign of “very, very little growth” that could be attributed to a shift toward online shopping.

Greenbrier, an area that Lewis said could see a significant amount of growth in the next five years, ranked at No. 2 in Faulkner County retail sales – about $93.7 million.

Mayflower followed at No. 3, with Vilonia at No. 4 and Guy at No. 5.

Countywide retail sales at about $1.85 billion were reported in 2014.

Conway hotel sales increased from $18.6 million in 2013 to $19.3 million last year. Hilton Garden Inn sat at the top of the list for total 2014 sales – about $2.6 million.

A total of about $1.74 billion in bank deposits was reported at 15 banking institutions in the county last year.

Conway Corporation reported revenue of $111 million in 2014, and 2015 revenue is estimated to be at about $111.9 million.

Restaurant Sales

The Conway restaurant scene took in about $176.3 million in sales last year, a jump up from $156.7 million in 2013.

Chick-fil-A, a repeat leader in the top annual Conway restaurants list, once again took the top spot with about $4.4 million in sales. Rounding out the top 10 were Chili’s Bar & Grill, $4 million; Cracker Barrel, $3.9 million; TGI Friday’s, $3.4 million; McDonald’s on Salem Road, $3.3 million; McDonald’s on Dave Ward Drive, $3.1 million; McDonald’s on Oak Street, $2.8 million; McDonald’s on Highway 65 N, $2.8 million; and Marketplace Grill, $2.6 million.

 

Crime Statistics

Violent crime in Conway decreased in 2013, from 4.2 incidents per 1,000 residents in 2010 to 3.7 two years ago.

Property crime – including burglary, larceny and vehicle theft – on the other hand jumped slightly, from 42.4 incidents per 1,000 residents in 2010 to 43.3 in 2013.

Lewis said property crime is a problem area for the city.

Little Rock and North Little Rock maintained higher property crime statistics in 2013 – 78.7 and 84.6 per 1,000, respectively. Rogers had the lowest of the cities whose population was at least 50,000 – 28.6 per 1,000 residents in 2013.

 

Population Shifts

Between 2010 and 2014, Conway saw a population increase of 4,108 – 58,908 compared to 63,106, respectively.

Lewis called the number a “pretty sound figure.”

In Faulkner County as a whole, the population jumped from 113,237 in 2010 to 122,426 in 2014.

 

Cost of Living

According to the data, living in Conway is about 8 percent cheaper than the national average, with local residents being able to do more on a $50,000 salary.

The 2015 economic report is a collaboration between Lewis, University of Central Arkansas graduate assistant Stacey Spinks and UCA economics professor Pat Cantrell.

This year’s report is titled, “Building Conway’s Future,” and includes a rendering of the UCA’s Donaghey Hall as a backdrop.

A full version of the annual report and more economic data from Conway is available at pulseofconway.com.