A setback

By now dust is settling on news surrounding the layoff of 500 HP employees at their Conway site. This has been a hot topic of conversation in most households around the city. There are a number of reasons the news sparked such particular interest.

First is the scale of the layoff itself. Five hundred jobs is a significant number anywhere. The impact on payroll has been estimated by some at around $15 million. Second, layoffs are, thankfully, a rare event in Faulkner County’s economy. For years, the good news has outnumbered the bad by a large margin. Finally, a number of Conway residents take special pride in successfully recruiting HP to Arkansas. Simply put, this one stings.

Our community’s primary and urgent focus should be on the 500 affected by the layoff. And that’s where the focus should remain until every one of them has an opportunity for equitable employment locally. There has been a ton of interest from area employers in hiring these too-soon-available, talented workers. Ours is still a rapidly growing economy and many businesses are licking their chops at the chance to hire pre-screened employees trained by a Fortune 20 company. Next week’s job fair organized by the Conway Chamber will hopefully speed up the occupational courtship for employer and applicant alike.

Everyone can benefit from a brief and honest assessment of the HP relationship moving forward. It’s important to remember the approximately 900 high-paying jobs still at the facility. There’s no reason to assume those jobs are at risk. The jobs lost were related to a struggling sector of HP’s vast tech interests. The remaining jobs are related to a key focus of the company’s future plans. There are many years left in this business relationship. It’s not beyond reason to think that those years could include growth from other parts of the HP company.

Economic changes are inevitable. They are even necessary. Every community’s hope is that their gains outweigh their losses. When that doesn’t happen, there is sadness, anxiety and even anger. Thankfully, Conway’s history and initial response show that this most recent setback is something we will recover from.