Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of

We acknowledge focusing too much in our reporting on local employment rates. As we report today, Columbia County’s unemployment rate is 3.8 percent – down almost a full percent from September. That’s great. Fantastic. Way to go. But not the most important figure. The more important number is the number of people who actually have jobs in Columbia County. The current number is 8,430. But here’s the kicker. In the early teens, Columbia County and the nation were only beginning to pull out of the Great Recession of 2007-2010. In September 2012, Columbia County had a jobless rate of 7.6 percent. Terrible, but a great improvement from double-digit rates during the recession. But a total of 9,675 people had jobs. That means since September 2012 and today, there’s been a loss of 1,245 jobs in Columbia County. If one wonders why Columbia County and South Arkansas are losing population, why many employers can’t find workers for the jobs they do have, and why there’s a general lack of new home construction – there’s your answer. Multiply that 1,245 by an average household number of about 2.5, and one understands why school enrollments are stagnant, why church attendance is generally down, and why the level of civic involvement isn’t what we wish it would be. We need jobs. News about the bromine, lithium and wood products industries is good. We should be able to pick up some of that lost ground. But there’s more to be done. That’s why we continue to actively encourage local civic, business and political leaders to push for having the state locate one of two new proposed prisons in or near Columbia County. There’s little enthusiasm for it among leadership, since Gov. Hutchison shot down a great proposal from Columbia County a few years ago. But the prospect for 300 new, stable jobs is something Columbia County and South Central Arkansas cannot and should not ignore. The clock’s ticking. At any rate, we don’t think the state will stop at the development of one new prison from the Department of Corrections, and another site for the Division of Community Correction. Other new prison possibilities will come up 3-4 years from now and Columbia County should bid for them, especially since we’ll have economic momentum on our side by then.

We can’t give you a direct link for legal reasons, but we can tell you that on Wednesday, the Defense One website published an article by Marcus Weisgerber headlined, “Aerojet Rocketdyne struggling to deliver rocket motors, Raytheon CEO says.” The subhead says “The charge comes after the Aerojet CEO questioned whether Raytheon has problems of its own.” The article notes that Aerojet is a key supplier for rocket motors for the Standard Missile-3, Standard Missile-6 and Stinger missiles, many of which are manufactured in Camden. The big concern that Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have (Lockheed tried but failed to buy privately-held Aerojet last year) is that Aerojet can’t keep pace with the exploding demand for solid rocket motors.

The need for new workers in South Arkansas’ petrochemical and defense industries is more or less constant.

Remember Merrytime in Magnolia and the Christmas Market that will be Saturday afternoon on the Magnolia Square.

Columbia County has drifted back into the zone with an enhanced risk for severe weather on Tuesday, but we’re not going to make much of this until we can get another 24-36 hours closer to the time of greatest risk. It’s always a good idea to pay attention to the forecast.

Lafayette County Elementary School Principal Stacie Mitchell-Gweah (pronounced Goy) was elected mayor of Stamps in a runoff against incumbent Brenda Davis.

Five years ago, SAU trustees heard about plans to revive the university’s poultry studies program. CLICK HERE to read the story.

A positive news development in the Nation’s Capitol. U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has announced that she’s leaving the Democratic Party and will register as an independent – something that’s more in line with her centrist views. The Democrats don’t like this, since their 51 Senate seats have dropped to 50 (Vice President Harris remains the deciding vote for Democrats in the case of a tie vote). Absolutely the best thing that could happen to either the House or the Senate would be a situation in which neither the Democrats nor the Republicans hold an absolute majority. Forcing the legacy parties into situations where they would have to compromise with a small middle of independents, Libertarians or Greens, or a few centrists from the opposing parties, would be a godsend to American democracy at this juncture.

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of Email him at or call him at 870-904-3865. Opinions expressed in this column are his own. Ban "Twelve Days of Christmas."

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