Region Must Harness Talent of Everyone, Northwest Arkansas Leader Says

Ethnic and racial diversity in Northwest Arkansas will continue its steady increase over the next five years, demonstrating that the region must embrace the long-term transition to continue its stellar economic performance.

Sheerah Davis, Ben Hasan and Bootsie Ackerman talked before the start of the Northwest Arkansas Council's winter meeting at The Jones Center in Springdale. The meeting focused on diversity and inclusion and its importance to the region's long-term success.

Sheerah Davis, Ben Hasan and Bootsie Ackerman talked before the start of the Northwest Arkansas Council's winter meeting at The Jones Center in Springdale. The meeting focused on diversity and inclusion and its importance to the region's long-term success.

The region’s changing population is just one of the notable facts that can be gleaned from “Diversity: A Look at How Northwest Arkansas’ Population is Changing.” The new report was made public by the Northwest Arkansas Council and its WelcomeNWA and EngageNWA initiatives.

“We put this summary together to show the breadth of minority populations in the region and present information about how our region will change over the next five years,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Council. “Northwest Arkansas is changing by the day. We must take proactive steps to harness the talents and energy of everyone who chooses to make this region home to ensure that it remains one of the nation’s best places to live and work.”

The region’s increasing diversity was the central theme on Tuesday at the Council's winter meeting at The Jones Center in Springdale. Those who attended heard an insightful panel discussion and the participants included Ben Hasan, senior vice president and chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer at Walmart; Mark Oleksuik, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Tyson Foods; and Yvette Murphy-Erby, vice provost for diversity and inclusion at the University of Arkansas. Kyle Kellams of KUAF moderated the discussion.

Talk Business & Politics covered the event, noting Hasan's thoughts on what's possible in Northwest Arkansas. He said the region is already diverse, and it's now possible to make the region into an "inclusion capital." KNWA and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription required) also covered Tuesday's event.

Northwest Arkansas’ overall population change between 1990 and 2017 is nothing short of remarkable, but the region's growth of racially and ethnically diverse people is even more notable.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that just 10,000 Hispanic/Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders lived in Northwest Arkansas in 1990. Now, those ethnic and racial groups include more than 140,000 people, and they’ll account for 180,000 people by 2022.

Other interesting Northwest Arkansas statistics in the Diversity Report include:

  • Students in Northwest Arkansas school systems come from more than 70 countries and speak at least 63 languages.
  • Springdale is on pace to be the region’s first large city where the majority of the population is non-white. More than 37,000 people who do not identify as white live in the city today, and an additional 6,000 will live in the city within five years, projections suggest.
  • Bentonville has the region’s largest population of people from India and 451 students in the Bentonville School District speak Telugu, Tamil or Hindi. Those are primary languages in India.
  • Northwest Arkansas has one of the world’s largest populations of people from the Marshall Islands, and the vast majority live in Springdale. Statistics provided by the Springdale School District indicate about 1,100 Marshallese students were born in the Marshall Islands, but far more (nearly 1,700) were actually born in the United States.
  • Fourteen out of 20 Northwest Arkansas residents will be white in 2022. It was 19 out of every 20 in 1990.

That changing regional population has the Northwest Arkansas Council and a cross section of the community working to make living in the region easier for all people.

EngageNWA, one of the two Council initiatives, was created to help newcomers and all constituents of the regional community work together to broaden integration and engagement efforts. One of its purposes is to strengthen the local economy and position Northwest Arkansas as a community of engaged global talent.

WelcomeNWA, which was established last year by the Council, works with Northwest Arkansas cities and counties to implement policies and strategies that attract, welcome and integrate all who chose to call Northwest Arkansas home. The initiative spans a variety of areas, including education, economic opportunity and civic engagement.

Northwest Arkansas Hits Top 25 in Milken's Best Cities Ranking

The Milken Institute earlier today returned Northwest Arkansas to its Top 25 Best-Performing Cities, releasing a report that showed the strength of the region's economy compared to all the nation's metropolitan statistical areas.

Northwest Arkansas (the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA) moved up five spots and now sits at No. 25 in the annual ranking. The ranking is based on each large metropolitan area’s job growth, wage growth, high-tech job growth and high-tech wage growth.

It's the region's best Milken showing since 2015 when Northwest Arkansas came in at No. 24.

The institute ranks Northwest Arkansas and other large metropolitan areas separate from smaller ones. The nation's Top 3 large metros were Provo, Utah; Raleigh; and Dallas. The full 2017 report provides insight into what's happening in all of the nation's metropolitan areas.

Northwest Arkansas' economy is led by three Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in the region and by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The companies and the university continue to make new investments that bode well for the region's future.

Walmart, for example, announced late last year that it will create a new headquarters location in Bentonville, pulling thousands of employees onto an entirely new campus in five to seven years.

Tyson Foods made a major, new investment into Springdale, locating its technology hub in the city's downtown. That project finished up in 2017.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Lowell, meanwhile, completed a project last year that will lead to more than 1,000 new jobs in the region over a six-year period.

In its 2017 report, Milken noted Northwest Arkansas performed well is some key areas of job growth. It was 8th nationally in its job growth rate from 2011-16, and it was 11th in its 2015-2016 job growth.

Northwest Arkansas’ overall ranking was better than all large metropolitan statistical areas in Arkansas and in four adjoining state: Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma. No. 8 Nashville in Tennessee and three large Texas metros (No. 3 Dallas, No. 9 Austin and No. 19 San Antonio) ranked higher.

Northwest Arkansas outperformed three of its five peer regions, too. The Northwest Arkansas Council benchmarks the region's economic performance against those five metropolitan areas: No. 2 Raleigh, No. 9 Austin, No. 56 Des Moines, No. 58 Madison and No. 106 Durham-Chapel Hill.

Arkansas had several other metropolitan areas among the hundreds across the U.S. that were considered by Milken researchers.

Jonesboro led Arkansas’ small MSAs, sitting at No. 46. Hot Springs moved up from No. 115 last year to No. 88 and so did Texarkana (from No. 183 to No. 158).

The state has three other large MSAs that include at least portions of Arkansas. Memphis (No. 148), Little Rock (No. 165) and Fort Smith (No. 193) were each part of the Milken report.

The Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., is a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic think tank that advances innovative economic and policy solutions that create jobs, widen access to capital, and enhance health.

 

Our Top 10: Corporate, Arts Investments Led the Way in 2017

People in most regions would be ecstatic to pull off a year as good as 2017, but Northwest Arkansas is used to being exceptional.

Year 2017 had the added pressure of followed two impressive years. Year 2015 brought the opening of Scott Family Amazeum, major highway construction and the start of the Brightwater Culinary School. Year 2016 saw massive hospital expansions, record enrollment at the University of Arkansas and the finishing of a major Walton Arts Center expansion.

The fact is 2017 did just fine. Northwest Arkansas saw just as many projects get finished up as it did announcements of things to come, and it’s nice to have lots of both.

The Northwest Arkansas Council staff always cobbles together a year-end summary that hits the highlights of the year’s best happenings. In this case, there’s some repetition because projects that started in 2016 continued into 2017, and those projects carried significant value over both years.

Here are our favorite 2017 happenings in no particular order.

J.B. Hunt Expansion

The expansion at J.B. Hunt Transport Services was announced in 2015, but it didn’t finish up until 2017. With an additional 133,000 square feet just to the east of Interstate 49 in Lowell, the new building looks fantastic, and it's pictured at the top of this post. The company added hundreds of jobs as part of the expansion.

Tyson Foods opened its technology hub in downtown Springdale in 2017.

Tyson Foods opened its technology hub in downtown Springdale in 2017.

Downtown Tyson Foods

Tyson Foods maintains its corporate headquarters in another part of Springdale, but the company completed a downtown Springdale expansion. The Tyson-owned buildings in downtown will serve as the company’s technology hub.

Impressive Gifts

The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation in August promised the University of Arkansas with the largest gift ever to support or establish a school of art. The $120 million gift will establish the university’s School of Art. In December, the Windgate Charitable Foundation provided $40 million to the university to create an art and design district in Fayetteville. Both gifts bode well for the region's future.

Healthcare Investments

Northwest Arkansas' leading families, foundations and companies stepped up to provide millions of dollars in support to Arkansas Children’s Northwest, a new hospital that should open in January 2018. The biggest gift — $15 million — was provided by Tyson Foods and the Tyson family. Meanwhile, Mercy Northwest Arkansas made major progress on a seven-story, $127 million hospital tower in Rogers as part of advancing healthcare across the region. That $247 million Mercy project, announced in April 2016, brought four now-completed medical clinics (three in Rogers, one in Pea Ridge) to the region in 2017. Additionally, Mercy broke ground on clinics in Springdale and southwest Bentonville. The hospital tower should be complete in August 2019.

Martin Miller of TheatreSquared encourages the crowd to cheer during the groundbreaking ceremony for the professional theatre company's new facility in Fayetteville.

Martin Miller of TheatreSquared encourages the crowd to cheer during the groundbreaking ceremony for the professional theatre company's new facility in Fayetteville.

TheatreSquared

The community broke ground in June on a permanent home for Northwest Arkansas’ only professional theatre company. The TheatreSquared fund-raising campaign is going strong, with a goal of reaching $34 million. The venue in Fayetteville should be open in 2019.

Walmart Headquarters

The world’s largest company made a big-time commitment to its hometown in the fall, planning to build a new corporate headquarters in Bentonville. That headquarters will be a few blocks east of the Bentonville Square. The company has employees in more than 20 buildings in the city, and plans to put most of those workers on the same campus. There’s been no groundbreaking just yet, but the construction is expected to be a five- to seven-year project. Is there any chance the Walmart headquarters project doesn't make this list in 2018, 2019 and beyond?

Employers Expect 3,621 Jobs

The annual Employer Retention and Expansion Survey completed by the Northwest Arkansas Council and five area chambers of commerce isn’t as flashy or high profile as other work in the region, but it’s certainly important. A March report showed the 477 companies that were contacted planned to hire 3,621 employees over three years. The annual survey’s findings were first published in 2013, and the most recent survey had the highest number for anticipated job creation.

Simmons Foods Jobs

The Siloam Springs company announced in September that it will build a $300 million facility between Gentry and Decatur, providing 1,500 jobs. The 315,000-square-foot operation will have the capacity to process 850 million pounds of poultry a year. 

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, the Arkansas Department of Transportation's Scott Bennett and Arkansas State Highway Commission Chairman Dick Trammel were among those who last spring celebrated the opening of a key section of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a highway more commonly referred to as the Bella Vista Bypass.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, the Arkansas Department of Transportation's Scott Bennett and Arkansas State Highway Commission Chairman Dick Trammel were among those who last spring celebrated the opening of a key section of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a highway more commonly referred to as the Bella Vista Bypass.

Huge Highway Projects

There’s no scenario in which the region’s biggest completed highway project doesn’t make the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Top 10. This time it's a six-mile section of the Bella Vista Bypass, a road the Council prefers to call the Missouri-Arkansas Connector. Honorable mentions go to the steady progress toward six-laning I-49 all the way from Bentonville to Fayetteville as well as the U.S. 412 Bypass project that's going to speed up the trip to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport once it's all done.

Best Places to Live
Northwest Arkansas made another impressive “best” list. This time it was in February when U.S. News & World Report put Northwest Arkansas at No. 5 on its list of Best Places to Live. The region’s amazing affordability clearly helped the region remain high when compared to the fancy, overpriced places.

 

Finding NWA Provides Hub for All Things Northwest Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas draws so much national praise these days that it’s easy to miss some of it.

The region ranks high economically in most circles, and Northwest Arkansas residents are increasingly finding success that’s more and more noteworthy.

Couple that with the region’s consistent quality-of-life upgrades and its remarkable number of weekend activities and it’s fast becoming a full-time job just to stay in the know.

We’re here to help.

The Northwest Arkansas Council recently updated a portion of its Finding NWA website to pull together information about the region’s latest accolades, about key upcoming events, and about success stories of the region’s companies, nonprofits, cities and residents.

The centralized #FindingNWA culture and news source is a one-stop place that captures all that’s good about Northwest Arkansas, and it doubles as a guide for users who want to find out more about certain topics.

The new webpage allows users to set preferences that prioritizes the information that’s of the most interest to them. For instance, readers can focus on information on the region’s outdoors, its rapidly expanding craft beer scene, the arts scene or specific cities.

Those maintaining the #FindingNWA culture and news page update the content regularly, curating it from more than 1,000 social media accounts and websites.

The team combs through more than 13,000 posts and blogs in a typical month, paying particular attention to national media outlets that might be writing about Northwest Arkansas. They also monitor Facebook pages, other types of social media and organizations’ websites in an effort to track all that’s being said about Northwest Arkansas.

“With so much attention being paid to social media and to what’s being written about Northwest Arkansas, we wanted to create a way to quickly find the most important, most interesting content and this component of our Finding NWA program certainly accomplishes that,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “We’re certain it’s going to be valuable to people who want to learn about what it’s like to live and work in Northwest Arkansas and to people who already live here who are interested in keeping up with what’s happening.”

The Northwest Arkansas Council created its Finding NWA program in mid-2016, using it to help people elsewhere learn more about the region. The Council works with Northwest Arkansas human resources managers and job recruiters as part of that effort, and it uses the Finding NWA website as a gateway to information about the region’s businesses, schools, cities and quality-of-life amenities.

The Council also maintains its Northwest Arkansas Digital Ambassadors program as a way to expand knowledge of the region. The staff at the Council, which established the ambassadors program in 2013, sends periodic emails to more than 630 volunteer ambassadors and requests that they share specific information on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn about the region.

Yet, the story of Northwest Arkansas is being told well by many organizations and companies. There are other good ways to learn about the region’s accolades, amenities, upcoming events and people. They include:

  • Leisurlist. It’s an excellent website and now an iPhone app. Leisurlist provides some original content such as Northwest Arkansas newcomer Monica Diodati’s recent post about the “Ultimate 10 Hours in Springdale.” While Finding NWA’s culture and news page focuses on accolades and the stories about people in Northwest Arkansas, the Leisurlist staff does an great job of identifying upcoming events of interest to people across the region.
  • Ozarks At Large. The KUAF program airs each weekday at noon and 7 p.m., and it consistently provides updates about what’s happening in the region. The hour-long radio broadcast, which host Kyle Kellams created, does an exceptional job of giving attention to local musicians and the region’s arts scene.
  • What’s Up! The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the region’s only daily newspaper, publishes an entertainment-focused section each Friday. That content is listed on the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s website.
  • Explore Northwest Arkansas. The website is maintained by the Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association, and it publishes a quarterly newsletter on what’s happening each winter, spring, summer and fall in a four-county area of Northwest Arkansas.
  • Fayetteville Flyer. The publication focuses its attention on the city and the University of Arkansas, and it doesn’t miss many opportunities to write about the region’s craft beer scene. Moreover, it regularly writes about matters beyond Fayetteville. Every city needs a Fayetteville Flyer.

New Company Plans Generic Drug Making in Fayetteville

New Company Plans Generic Drug Making in Fayetteville

A business unlike anything else in Arkansas will begin building its new facility in Fayetteville early next year.

OurPharma is a startup that'll begin manufacturing generic medications on a 14.9-acre site in the Fayetteville Commercial Park, employing 10 to 12 workers once the manufacturing begins. The company's long-term vision is for the company to make low-cost alternatives to pricy prescription drugs and to employ more than 100 people within seven years. The company plans to invest approximately $31.1 million in the Fayetteville facility.