Council Welcomes Van Laningham as Fifth Lifetime Member

The Northwest Arkansas Council on Thursday inducted its fifth honorary lifetime member at its winter meeting in Bentonville.

Scott Van Laningham worked on the staff of the Northwest Arkansas Council during the 1990s when developing a regional airport was front and center as one of the nonprofit organization’s goals.

The former Northwest Arkansas Times and the Arkansas Gazette journalist, who was in charge of communications for the Northwest Arkansas Council, was recognized in his time with the Council for his exceptional skill in conveying to elected officials and the public why Northwest Arkansas needed a regional airport, said Uvalde Lindsey, the Council’s executive director at the time.

After the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport opened in 1998, Van Laningham became the airport’s first president and CEO. Aaron Burkes was hired in late 2018 as the airport’s new president and CEO, and Van Laningham will retire later this year.

Van Laningham remained involved with the Council while he worked of the airport. He was the Council’s vice chairman for years.

A video about Van Laningham’s work was shared with Northwest Arkansas Council members at Thursday’s meeting.

He joins a prestigious group of honorary lifetime members. Previous inductees are former President Bill Clinton (2010), John Paul Hammerschmidt (2012), Alice Walton (2012) and Lindsey (2015).

Pictured at the top: Alice Walton, Scott Van Laningham and Uvalde Lindsey, all honorary lifetime members of the Northwest Arkansas Council, attended the nonprofit organization’s winter meeting on Thursday. Van Laningham was inducted as the newest honorary member at the meeting.

Study: Investments Would Expand $2.7B Healthcare Economy

Stakeholder collaboration and smart investments can inject billions of dollars into Northwest Arkansas’ healthcare economy, begin defining the region as a healthcare destination, and improve health outcomes and wellness.

Those are among the conclusions in Northwest Arkansas Healthcare: Assessment, Economic Impact and Vision for the Future, a report presented to the Northwest Arkansas Council. National healthcare research firm Tripp Umbach shared the firm’s key findings and recommendations today at the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Winter Meeting in Bentonville.

Increasing the availability of high-quality specialty care, increasing research and development, and expanding the region’s healthcare educational offerings would help recapture some of the $950 million a year spent by people who travel elsewhere to meet medical needs, and it would begin attracting patients to Northwest Arkansas. The region’s $2.7 billion healthcare sector can grow to become a far larger portion of the region’s economy by 2040. Further, the failure to take these steps could slow future economic growth, Tripp Umbach concludes.

Dozens of stakeholder interviews as well as healthcare-focused data collected about Northwest Arkansas shaped Tripp Umbach’s report. The recommendations are:

  • Establish a division of the Northwest Arkansas Council focused on healthcare transformation by July 1, 2019;

  • Expand Graduate Medical Education (GME) in one to two years;

  • Develop an interdisciplinary research institute in one to five years;

  • Expand medical education and/or develop a four-year medical school in two to seven years.

“Northwest Arkansas’ economy has benefited greatly from collaboration, and given the impact of healthcare on our economy and quality of life, it was a natural that we take this important step,” said Susan Barrett, the CEO Emeritus at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas who helped lead the region’s engagement with Tripp Umbach. “Regional educators and the healthcare providers know it’s necessary to work together to pursue these recommendations, and we are excited about our collective potential.”

The report indicates “the underperformance of the healthcare sector will negatively impact future health status, economic development, and Northwest Arkansas’ population growth” unless a healthcare-focused regional strategy is developed.” Tripp Umbach suggests the Northwest Arkansas Council lead the development of that strategy.

“Northwest Arkansas has the leadership and community assets necessary to transform the healthcare sector, to establish the region as a healthcare destination, and for the region to become a model for population health management,” said Paul Umbach, the healthcare and economic research firm’s founder. “Taking the right steps will result in billions of dollars added to the regional economy, thousands of high-paying jobs, and better health outcomes for regional residents."

Northwest Arkansas falls short when it comes to its number of medical specialists. Major shortages exist in the number of cardiologists, neurologists and endocrinologists, the consultant reported. Family practice appears to be keeping up with the region’s growth.

The Northwest Arkansas research started in March last year, and Tripp Umbach engaged dozens of people in conversations about the healthcare economy. The firm’s team interviewed hospital administrators, physicians, educators, entrepreneurs, nonprofit organization leaders, corporate executives and biotech company owners. Many of those people were on a steering committee that assisted Tripp Umbach throughout 2018.

The firm made comparisons to peer regions used as Northwest Arkansas Council benchmarks such as Des Moines, Iowa, Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., and Madison, Wis. Tripp Umbach added Spokane, Wash., and Evansville, Ind. – regions where significant healthcare advances have occurred.

The peer comparisons showed Northwest Arkansas lags behind the peers as just 7 percent of the region’s jobs are in the healthcare sector. It’s 17 percent in Durham-Chapel Hill, 12 percent in Spokane, and 11 percent in Evansville.

Pictured at the top: Paul Umbach, the founder of Tripp Umbach, described steps Northwest Arkansas leaders can take to advance the region’s $2.7 billion healthcare economy. He spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Winter Meeting today in Bentonville.

State Celebrates $15M Upgrade to Northwest Arkansas Corridor

The opening of a Northwest Arkansas highway was celebrated today, providing the region with one of its best options for travel between Fayetteville and Rogers.

The opening of the new four-mile section of Arkansas Highway 265 means there’s just one more project to finish up on the highway and that last section in Springdale should open early this year, said Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Crossland Construction of Columbus, Kan., was hired by the Transportation Department to build the highway section that was celebrated earlier today for $15 million, starting the work in 2016.

Dick Trammel, who is the current chairman of the Highway Commission but ends his 10-year term later this month, pushed for major Arkansas 265 improvements for years. Trammel believed a north-south route on the east side of the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area would be a nice compliment to Interstate 49 and U.S. Highway 71B.

Trammel and Bennett were joined by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse, Rogers Mayor Greg Hines, Benton County Judge Barry Moehring, four other state Highway Commission members and several state legislators at today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Jones Center in Springdale.

The Transportation Department started improving the Arkansas 265 corridor in 1978, and will have completed eight projects over the 40 years. The combined cost of those projects is $105.9 million, Bennett said.

Bennett complimented the cities of Springdale and Fayetteville for contributing money to Arkansas 265 projects over the years, and other Northwest Arkansas cities have a long history of contributing funding to highway projects in partnerships with the Transportation Department to speed up their completion.

The final piece of the Arkansas 265 improvements is well on its way toward completion. It stretches from Arkansas Highway 264 in Bethel Heights to Randall Wobbe Lane in Springdale. The roadway celebrated earlier today is immediately north of Arkansas 264.

Once the last Arkansas 265 project is finished, it’s believed the new roadway will pull a combined 6,000 to 8,000 vehicles a day off I-49 and U.S. 71B, Bennett said.

There remain major highway projects to complete in Northwest Arkansas in the coming years, and most of them need significant funding before they can be built.

The biggest of the incomplete projects is Arkansas Highway 612, a highway that will eventually become the east-west U.S. 412 Bypass of Springdale. A statewide half-cent sales tax approved in 2012 provided funding to open a $101 million portion of highway last year, but it will take hundreds of millions of additional dollars to complete the entire route from Tontitown to Sonora.

The region also needs a spur off the new Arkansas 612 to connect it to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. That roadway toward the airport would make it possible to travel from XNA to I-49 on a four-lane divided highway.

A third priority is identifying full funding for improvements to Arkansas Highway 112, a curvy, two-lane roadway on the west side of the metropolitan area that connects Bentonville to Fayetteville. A 2015 study put the cost of the 112 improvements between $109 million and $134 million.

Pictured at the top: Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Scott Bennett, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Highway Commission Chairman Dick Trammel cut a ribbon today to celebrate the competition of a new section of Arkansas Highway 265.

Top 10: Northwest Arkansas Kept Sailing Along in 2018

Top 10: Northwest Arkansas Kept Sailing Along in 2018

Year 2018 in Northwest Arkansas was fantastic by almost any measure.

New highways, expanded healthcare, business investments, new areas of emphasis, and national recognition as one of the nation’s best places to live were among the highlights.

The Northwest Arkansas Council staff each year pulls together a year-end summary focused on the year’s best happenings, and there’s significant room for debate. We limited the list to the Top 10, but could have easily stepped it up to a Top 15 or even Top 20. There were that many important or region-changing successes in 2018.

New $25M Grant Will Finish I-49 Project

New $25M Grant Will Finish I-49 Project

A federal grant announced today by five members of Congress will pay for the unfunded portion of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a project that’s been worked on by Missouri and Arkansas for more than 20 years.

The $25 million U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant, which was requested by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, will go to the Missouri Department of Transportation which has promised to complete work on a five-mile portion of a 19-mile section of Interstate 49 that swings west of Bella Vista.

University Receives $23.7M for Research, Economic Development Pursuits

University Receives $23.7M for Research, Economic Development Pursuits

A $23.7 million investment from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation into the University of Arkansas’ research and economic development infrastructure will strengthen the university’s research engine, driving innovation across disciplines, leading to the commercialization of new technologies and ultimately enhancing economic activity in the state. 

The gift was announced Friday at a Campaign Arkansas volunteer steering committee meeting and takes the campaign’s fundraising total beyond $1 billion. The goal of the campaign, which ends in June 2020, is to reach $1.25 billion.