Economic conditions in Arkansas and the Midwest region remain essentially unchanged as the new year begins with the covid-19 pandemic continuing to hamper growth, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.
The Fed's Beige Book report, which offers a spot check of the economies in the agency's eight districts, was released Wednesday and noted that business activity in early January is mirroring reports from the last few months of 2020.
"Although the prospect of covid-19 vaccines has bolstered business optimism for 2021 growth," the report said, "this has been tempered by concern over the recent virus resurgence and the implications for near-term business conditions."
In the seven-state district that covers Arkansas, the Fed reported "robust growth" in the manufacturing sector, though employment levels remain below those of a year ago.
That's true in Arkansas, which added more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the most recent November unemployment report. However, employment in the sector was down by more than 14,000 jobs in November 2019.
Manufacturing appears to be gaining momentum, the Fed said. "Firms in both Arkansas and Missouri reported a strong uptick in new orders and production," the report said.
From Oct. 7-Jan. 4, four major manufacturing operations in Arkansas announced they would add more than 700 advanced manufacturing jobs in the coming years with investments reaching $190 million. All four cited an increase in business orders and product demand in leading to the expansions.
Those companies were joined on Wednesday when Butterball announced it was increasing production at two plants in the state's northwest corner and plans to add 360 jobs.
Yet the Fed also noted, without mentioning specifics, that one Central Arkansas manufacturing contact reported that business was slowing or plants were shutting down because of covid-19 infection rates among employees.
Overall, hiring has been mixed, the Fed said.
"Businesses increasingly reported seeking workers nationwide due to the labor shortages and, when applicable, allowing workers to work remotely," the Beige Book said. "Many other firms reported that employment levels have remained stagnant or declined, especially small businesses and firms in the leisure and hospitality sector."
Meanwhile, consumer prices have increased slightly and shipping delays related to the pandemic also are creating pricing challenges in the region. Prices have increased for lumber and concrete, which combined with shipping issues, is raising construction costs and "leading homeowners to scale back renovation and building projects," the report said.
An increase in online shopping also is fueling price increases. "Parcel companies have increased shipping prices due to unprecedented demand from online shopping overall and holiday demand specifically," the report said.
The report said that other sectors -- agriculture, banking and finance, real estate, construction and nonfinancial services -- all remain unchanged from prior reports at the end of 2020.
The entire state of Arkansas is included in the Fed's St. Louis district, which stretches across parts of eastern Missouri, northern Mississippi, western Kentucky and Tennessee and southern Illinois and Indiana.