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story.lead_photo.caption Ryan Davis (left) and Joel Hudson, employees for the Fayetteville-based apparel company Lauren James, work on setting up the machine for a shirt printing run Thursday, March 17, 2016 at their warehouse in Fayetteville. - Photo by Michael Woods

Northwest Arkansas employers expect to hire 3,161 workers and invest $336 million over the next three years, both more than business leaders projected last year.

The Northwest Arkansas Council released the job outlook Thursday in its 2015 Regional Employer Survey. This is the fourth year for the report, and the three-year job predictions have ranged each survey from 965 to 2,037.

Many of the 508 regional employers taking part in the survey shared a positive outlook, said Mike Harvey, the council’s chief operating officer. The area’s five largest chambers of commerce conduct the surveys in their towns.

“The mood is good. The first year we took this, in 2011, the mood was not good at all,” he said.

Harvey said one of the questions on that first survey asked employers what was their greatest achievement.

“Survival,” he said, was a common answer.

J.B. Hunt Transport in Lowell announced last year it plans to add more than 1,000 jobs over the next six years after construction is completed on a 133,000-square-foot office tower.

Often the job gains come in smaller clumps, such as the 35 workers Lauren James added last year.

The Fayetteville-based women’s apparel line has been in rapid growth mode in its 2½ years in business. The company started in the living room of co-founders Lance and Lauren Stokes, moved a few times to slightly bigger locations and finally found a permanent home.

It moved into an 80,000-square-foot warehouse in June, which Bright Technology originally built for its expansion. Bright Technology built the warehouse on part of the 55 acres it owns in the Fayetteville industrial park. Fredi Valle, the company’s president, said the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce connected him with the Stokeses.

“There was nothing else in that magnitude in Fayetteville,” Lance Stokes said. “This just was an opportunity that we took, and the timing was perfect.”

The initial discussion was for Lauren James to occupy 20,000 square feet, but it gradually kept creeping up. Stokes said they are in negotiations to buy the property.

The apparel company has 54 employees.

Valle said Bright Technology is considering building a 40,000-square-foot warehouse for itself.

“We need the space right now for warehousing, but hopefully it will help our business grow further,” he said. Bright has about 120 employees.

Often a business can receive state incentives for expansion projects of at least $100,000.

Steve Cox, senior vice president of economic development for the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, said he helped six companies secure state incentives last year: EcoVet, Razorback Liquidation Group, Ozark Mountain Poultry and Mundo-Tech in Rogers; and Total Quality Logistics and J.B. Hunt Transport in Lowell.

Siloam Springs-based Simmons Foods used a $1 million Arkansas Economic Development Commission grant to pay for a wastewater pretreatment facility. The company looked at building the new, wet pet food ingredient plant in Southwest City, Mo., near its dry pet food plant.

Jeff Webster, chief operating officer of Simmons Feed Ingredients, said construction of the $25 million to $30 million, 60,000-square-foot factory is slated to be complete Feb. 1.

The new factory means 78 new jobs in Siloam Springs. Webster said about 10 will be salaried and many will be technical service positions.

“You will have a fair amount of hourly jobs, but they will be in the form of equipment operators,” he said.

He hopes he can find the workforce he needs.

“As strong as the economy is, it is increasingly creating issues for employers finding people they need to work,” Harvey said. “Workforce stood out above all else for concerns.”

Print Headline: 3,161 jobs forecast for NW Arkansas

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