Morrilton - Homegrown Tools

Morrilton, AR

Updated: 2022

In Morrilton, two of the town’s largest employers close their doors in the same week. A coalition of community leaders responds quickly to form partnerships and implement job training programs for the dislocated workers.

Population2020 6,638
Median Household Income2020$33,313
Poverty Rate 202031.7%
Proximity to Urban Center 50 miles to Little Rock, Ark.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 2 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1998-2000
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Over the last 20 years, Morrilton’s high concentration of textile and manufacturing plants has been eroding. The biggest loss came in 1999 when two of its largest employers closed in the same week. More than 1,000 workers were laid off, resulting in 40 percent unemployment. The mayor and economic development staff quickly assembled an industrial fair in which more than 50 area businesses hired many of the former plant workers. In addition, Morrilton obtained help to establish a computer training center where former textile workers learned computer and technology skills. Through these efforts, Morrilton has attracted three new industries and replaced nearly all of the lost jobs.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Workforce development is economic development. Morrilton demonstrates that assisting workers through the transition to new jobs can be an effective tool for economic development. The community’s initial push was to engage with existing businesses to secure jobs for dislocated workers. Skill deficiencies pushed the town to go further and to create a computer training program, which has become a draw for more modern industries. Communities moving away from labor-intensive manufacturing can develop workforce strategies that help local workers compete for new economy jobs.


Anticipating the worst enables a community to respond faster to plant closures. Rather than relying on federal and state authorities to help dislocated workers, Morrilton took a leading role in finding workers new jobs. By utilizing contacts with area business owners, something state officials could not do, Morrilton’s economic development group pulled off a highly successful job fair that helped many find work. Morrilton also was aggressive in seeking support from its state senator to secure a facility and resources for the computer skills class. Morrilton demonstrates that a concrete response during times of crises can have a large impact on a community.


Seek nontraditional partners in responding to economic disasters. After the plant closures of 1999, elected officials set out to inform laid-off workers of job openings through the industrial fair and provide workforce training programs. But officials did not stop there. Mayor Nelson brought area churches together to discuss how the faith community might help in this time of need. The churches agreed to host prayer meetings and provide counseling to workers and their families. The churches also opened food banks to ensure that no family went without a meal. This brought more members of the community into the problem-solving process. “Everybody had a role,” Nelson said. “Folks donated food to the churches, who gave food to unemployed families. It really brought the community together and helped us survive.” Local leaders and officials should look beyond the obvious workforce issues to see how the other aspects of job loss might be eased. By involving churches, Morrilton was able to meet the immediate economic and psychic needs of its residents.