In 2012, Fort Smith was dealt a staggering economic blow when Whirlpool permanently closed the doors of its manufacturing facility, eliminating more than 900 jobs in the area.
Although some might have expected the people of Fort Smith to pack their bags and call it a day after such challenges, the Fort Smith community refused to let this setback define them. Fort Smith's leadership worked hard to bounce back. Part of its strategy has been to recruit world-class companies to the community and create an atmosphere that encourages existing businesses to grow. Since 2012, companies from all over the world have announced plans to locate or expand in Fort Smith, resulting in the creation of thousands of new jobs.
Fort Smith is just one example of an Arkansas city that is experiencing recent economic growth. Arkansas is bringing jobs from business around the world to communities all across the state. In March, I traveled to Northwest Arkansas to announce 100 new jobs in Rogers. From there, I traveled immediately to Northeast Arkansas to announce 110 jobs in Jonesboro. Through these two announcements, 210 Arkansas families in two different communities on far ends of the state will experience a greater a quality of life because companies are making significant investments in our state and our workforce.
As more industries begin to take notice of the friendly business climate in our state, our unemployment rate continues to drop. The unemployment rate for the state is 3.8 percent--the lowest it has been since at least 1957, when the unemployment rate was first recorded in Arkansas. This brings the total number of employed Arkansans to 1.3 million. There are currently 54,000 more Arkansans who now have a steady flow of income to support their families than when I took office in January of last year. This is great news!
Arkansas is gaining the attention of business across the globe. In just a year and a half, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has signed incentive agreements with 150 new or expanding companies in the state. These 150 companies will create more than 6,300 new jobs at an average hourly wage rate of almost $19.25, and will invest $2.5 billion in their Arkansas operations.
Arkansas regularly trades with dozens of countries from Japan to Cuba. Five European countries ranked among Arkansas's top 20 trading partners in 2015, accounting for 16.9 percent of all exports from Arkansas. Germany leads this list with 23 German-based firms located in the state, employing more than 1,600 Arkansans.
Because of Arkansas's connections with Germany, I will be joining with our economic leaders to officially open a new office in Europe, which will put us in a better position to recruit foreign companies to do business in our state. This office will allow us opportunity to be even more successful with global companies that are looking to expand in the U.S.
Ultimately, our goal is to share our story with the world to create better opportunities for hard-working Arkansans. Already, it's been a great year for job growth in Arkansas, and with our state's natural beauty, thriving lifestyle, effective infrastructure and entrepreneurial mindset, Arkansas will continue to attract new talent and business for years to come.