While driving to Little Rock in morning rush hour traffic, you might wonder just how many people from Conway work in the Little Rock area. This number can be estimated from several sources. The Arkansas Department of Work Force Services notes that during 2012 an average of 54,700 Faulkner County residents were employed. Of those, 40,607 were employed by 2,760 firms in Faulkner County (based on 2012 employment and earnings data). Thus, at least 14,000 workers are employed outside the county. Some of them must be driving with you during that morning rush hour.
Commuting to Faulkner County
Of course, some of the 40,607 workers in Faulkner County commute here from other counties, which means that even more than 14,000 Faulkner County’s workers commute to work outside the county. A considerable number of employees of our larger firms, Axiom, Conway Regional, Kimberly Clark, Hewlett Packard and UCA, commute here from outside the county.
Data collected several years ago by the census bureau and extrapolated to current workforce numbers provides a reasonably accurate picture of commuting practices. From this analysis, approximately 8,600 workers commute to Faulkner County (this does not include college students). About 250 of these commute from out of state, leaving 8350 workers who come from other Arkansas counties. Although 46 counties are represented by the commuters, 6830 of them come from the Conway County (2075), Pulaski County (1760), Perry County (1115), Van Buren County (930), White County (500), and Cleburne County (450).
The same data indicates that approximately 15,100 workers commute from Faulkner County to other places. Although their destinations include 36 counties, the bulk of them (12,400) go to Pulaski County. This leaves 31,000 employees that I call native employees — they live here — work here.
The word commute is a broad term and does not necessarily mean a daily drive. In addition the data on origin of workers includes workers from distant counties, other states and even countries. These workers may travel weekly or monthly or perhaps reside temporarily. These characteristics fit many who work in the gas exploration industry.
Traveling to and from Little Rock has been a nightmare for years. In the 1950s and 1960s, before Interstate 40 was built, the commute was on a two-lane highway through Mayflower, Palarm and North Little Rock. It often required an hour or more. The highway infrastructure has had major improvements to keep up with the growing population. The four-lane I-40 was a god-send for commuters and made commuting much easier. Then, the I-430 bypass around west Little Rock and I-630 through the center of Little Rock helped relieve the logjam. The intersection of I-430 and I-630 in Little Rock, now under construction, is the most ambitious and expensive intersection ever built in Arkansas.
Now I-40 from Conway to the I-430 junction is being widened to six lanes to serve a traffic volume that averages more than 71,000 vehicles per day between Conway and that junction.
We are a mobile society when it comes to the work place, which brings up another question. Do we need a mass transit system? Yes, but it will be many years before something like a light rail system will be built in central Arkansas. However, I believe it will happen, maybe when the traffic volume on I-40 from Conway to Little Rock exceeds one million vehicles per day. In the meantime we certainly could use some public transportation within Conway and to the Little Rock area. The only transportation we now have in Conway is a few taxis, a couple of medical paratransit providers and vans that serve state employees and clients of non-profit entities. We have no scheduled public transportation system. If you need public transportation to get to work in Conway, forget it. However, I predict that in just a few years we will have some form of public transportation in Conway.
I thank my friend Chris Spatz for editing and helping me with this article. You can obtain more information on the economy of Conway and Faulkner County by going to the Pulse of Conway website (www.pulseofconway.com).