Technology Summit Expands, Likely to Draw More than 1,500

The Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit scheduled for next month will involve more than 60 speakers and events. The annual event has expand with events occurring over the three-day period of October 15-17.

Jeremy King, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Walmart US, and Fred Argir, vice president and chief digital officer for Barnes and Noble, are the keynote speakers for the main event on Oct. 17 at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers.

Organized by the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce and the NWA Technology Council, the summit drew about 400 participants in 2014, its first year. It's continued to grow as it involved more than 1,500 people last year. Registration can be made at this link.

The three days of activities start with a social coding event on Oct. 15 at the University of Arkansas Global Campus in Fayetteville.

A Women in Technology conference and Arkansas Maker Summit will be held Oct. 16 at the Hammons Convention Center.

In addition to King and Argir, the more than 60 speakers participating in the Oct. 17 technology summit include business and technology leaders from Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Walmart, Sam’s Club, IBM, Oracle, Roku, Intel, Digimarc, AT&T, Teradata, Rockfish and several others. 

Local startups such as Lauren James, CaseStack, James + James, WhyteSpyder and Junk Brands will be participating, describing how technology plays a role in their success.

In the health-care category, there will be presentations by the University of Arkansas for Medical Services, Mercy, Highlands Oncology and Tracking Pharma.

Money: 4 Northwest Arkansas Cities Among Best Places

Four Northwest Arkansas cities rank among the nation's top places to live, a national magazine determined.

Money magazine, in partnership with Realtor.com, on Monday published its new list of Best Places to Live 2017, and it ranked No. 43 Fayetteville, No. 45 Rogers, No. 58 Springdale and No. 68 Siloam Springs.

The magazine publishes a Top 100 list. The four Northwest Arkansas cities were the only Arkansas cities to be noted in the list that’s limited to places with 10,000 to 100,000 residents.

No Arkansas city was ranked when the magazine published a Top 50 list last year.

The magazine said it put an emphasis this year on economic health, cost of living factors and public school performance to select the nation’s best places. In all, 170,000 data points about 2,400 places to arrive at its Top 100.

The No. 1 place this year was Fishers, Ind., which is a city of 86,000 residents that’s 16 miles from Indianapolis. Fishers ranked No. 30 last year.

Northwest Arkansas traditionally performs exceedingly well in the rankings published by national magazines and evaluators. For example, U.S. News & World Report earlier this year put the Northwest Arkansas region at No. 5 on its list of Best Places to Live in the USA.

In its new list, Money magazine indicated 21 Arkansas cities, including Bentonville, Conway and Jonesboro, were among 2,400 nationwide that were evaluated.

Magazine policies ensure that the list includes a true cross section of places in the U.S. Among those policies is that no state can have more than four cities in the Top 100 and no county can have more than two cities in the Top 100.

Money magazine’s ranking drew lots of national attention for the city of Fishers. The Chicago Tribune and Indianapolis Star was among the publications publishing stories about the Money ranking.

The magazine first published its ranking in 1987.

 

Initiative Aims to Create First 'Welcoming Region'

The Northwest Arkansas Council on Saturday announced details of its new WelcomeNWA initiative. The WelcomeNWA program was created to assist Northwest Arkansas communities in becoming more welcoming to anyone who calls this region home - whether they come from another country, another state, or another Arkansas region.

Increasing efforts to be more inclusive will lead to a positive economic impact and other regional benefits.

WelcomeNWA Director Margot Lemaster talked Saturday at a National Welcoming Week event in Springdale about the Northwest Arkansas Council's new initiative.

WelcomeNWA Director Margot Lemaster talked Saturday at a National Welcoming Week event in Springdale about the Northwest Arkansas Council's new initiative.

WelcomeNWA Director Margot Lemaster announced the new initiative at a National Welcoming Week celebration organized by EngageNWA at Shiloh Square in downtown Springdale. The announcement coincided with four Northwest Arkansas cities — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bella Vista — issuing proclamations in honor of National Welcoming Week.

“Welcoming newcomers to our region is important because they help strengthen our economy and they fill gaps throughout our labor force,” Lemaster said. “Newcomers bring vibrancy to our downtowns and neighborhoods and they help Northwest Arkansas grow the diversity of our region’s cultural amenities.”

Initial goals of WelcomeNWA include working with Northwest Arkansas cities to develop a regional strategic plan to welcome and integrate everyone living in Northwest Arkansas.

Another goal is to establish Northwest Arkansas as the nation’s first “welcoming region.” To be recognized as a “welcoming region,” a collection of Northwest Arkansas cities or the counties need to sign on to take steps to assist newcomers. It will be up to each city to decide how to become more welcoming to newcomers. For some, that will mean taking steps such as providing utility bills in other languages while others may look at ways to offer support to immigrant and minority-owned businesses.

While cities and counties across the U.S. have been recognized as welcoming by Welcome America, there’s no place where an entire region is officially recognized as welcoming. In addition to Fayetteville in Northwest Arkansas, the cities already recognized as welcoming include a true cross section of America: Dayton, Ohio; Chicago; Dallas; Memphis; Dodge City, Kan.; Raleigh; Richmond, Va.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Austin, Texas.

The WelcomeNWA program recently received support from two national organizations. New American Economy and Welcoming America selected WelcomeNWA for the nationally competitive Gateways for Growth Challenge. The Gateways for Growth Challenge will help support the effort by involving national experts to help guide and support a strategic planning process in Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s clear that many local governments in Northwest Arkansas already have taken significant steps to make people from elsewhere more easily able to call our region home,” LeMaster said. “We want to give every city and both counties the opportunity to do even more, and we know excellent opportunities exist.”

 

Newcomers Will Find Solid NW Arkansas Schools

An annual report demonstrates people relocating to Northwest Arkansas from across the globe will be able to find excellent schools that fit their children’s educational needs, University of Arkansas researchers say.

Gary Ritter, an education and public policy professor and holder of the endowed chair in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and Sarah McKenzie, executive director of the university’s Office for Education Policy, said the latest version of the Northwest Arkansas Education Report Card includes many examples of academic excellence in the region’s public schools and public charter schools.

Teacher Darah Bennett talks with one of her students at Apple Glen Elementary School in Bentonville.

Teacher Darah Bennett talks with one of her students at Apple Glen Elementary School in Bentonville.

“Parents seek a school that is academically challenging and provides opportunities for their child to develop other skills like creativity, collaboration, and problem solving,” McKenzie said. “In Northwest Arkansas, there are a variety of great educational options, ranging from smaller schools that provide a learning experience rooted in the community to larger schools that offer wide ranging courses and extra-curricular activities. Whatever setting parents feel best meets the needs of their child, Northwest Arkansas schools offer plentiful opportunities for students to succeed."

The report card shows the 15 Northwest Arkansas school districts in Benton and Washington counties enroll nearly 85,000 students and employ 5,300 teachers in all. Most of the data in the report is based on the 2015-16 school year.

Among the statistics in the report:

  • Northwest Arkansas students continue to outperform their peers in other parts of the state, including in ACT exam scores (22.1 average vs. 20.6 average).
  • Northwest Arkansas students graduate from high school more often than students in other parts of Arkansas (89 percent vs. 87 percent).
  • Bentonville, Fayetteville and Gravette were among the highest performing traditional school districts in student achievement.
  • Arkansas Arts Academy, a charter school with nearly 600 students, had a 100 percent graduate rate. Students’ average ACT score was 23.1 at the school, which is located in Rogers.
  • The graduation rate at Farmington High School was 97 percent. It had the highest percentage among the traditional high schools.

For the first time, the report includes information on individual schools in the region’s largest school districts, allowing parents to see how one specific elementary or middle school stacks up against those in the same district and in other large school districts across Northwest Arkansas. Individual school data is provided for the Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale school districts.

“We’ve created the report to be easily understood, because most people aren’t used to looking at school performance data,” Ritter said. “This should be useful to parents who want to know more about our schools.”

Ritter said many parents want to know if a high school will prepare their student for college. He said that Northwest Arkansas schools can provide excellent college preparatory experiences and all high schools offer Advanced Placement courses that give students an opportunity to complete college-level work.

The report does not include data from private schools, but some of the region’s private schools are widely recognized for their excellence.

 

Northwest Arkansas Companies Leading Hurricane Response

Northwest Arkansas largest companies are often among the first to step up during a natural disaster with Walmart Stores, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services leading the way.

Their work was only gaining steam as Hurricane Harvey began moving north and away from the Gulf Coast.

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announced last week that they would provide $1 million to organizations helping in response to Hurricane Harvey, and that was just the beginning. The company and foundation announced on Wednesday that they'd provide up to $20 million toward Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery.

“In the midst of the worst storm this region has ever seen, it is wonderful to see corporate partners such as Walmart step up and help Houstonians,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “We are rebuilding and with these funds we will be able to help Houstonians return to normality. I would like to thank Walmart President and CEO, Doug McMillon for his generosity and challenge others to join in this effort.”

Walmart is working closely with organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Convoy of Hope while coordinating efforts with elected officials and governmental entities to help meet the needs of those affected.

J.B. Hunt often flies under the radar with its natural disaster contributions, but it's common for the company's customers to donate loads of bottled water, animal feed and other products, and for J.B. Hunt to ship them to disaster-struck regions at no cost to its customers. In the past, the company has donated trucks and provided vehicle maintenance to Northwest Arkansas disaster relief organizations for responses to events such as Hurricane Harvey.

Tyson Foods, meanwhile, always takes a leading role in helping communities recover from devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other weather-related disasters. The company is providing $50,000 to the American Red Cross and $50,000 to the Salvation Army in support of those organizations' work in Texas.

A company spokesman said on Wednesday that Tyson Foods will be setting up and cooking free, hot meals at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Conroe, Texas, and its operation should start on Friday morning. A distribution system is being established to provide meals to people in the Houston metropolitan area.

The Tyson Foods team members who travel to Texas will come from company operations in four Arkansas cities: Clarksville, Dardanelle, Scranton and Texarkana. The company's Meals that Matter mobile relief truck and three Tyson Foods tractor-trailers, carrying ice and bottled water, are heading to the region. The company said it's working closely with four primary disaster relief partners: Bimbo Bakeries USA, Harris Baking Co., Hugg & Hall Equipment, and Peppersource.

The responses of corporate America is being noted by television stations and other media outlets. CBS News and NPR noted Walmart’s $1 million gift of cash and products,

Walmart has a long history of providing such relief. In 2005, Walmart dispatched 2,450 truckloads of supplies to help victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita after those storms ravaged Louisiana and other areas of the Gulf Coast.

Walmart’s work after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 drew national praise for being impressive in both speed and volume. The Washington Post described Walmart as “being held up as a model for logistical efficiency and nimble disaster planning, which have allowed it to quickly deliver staples such as water, fuel and toilet paper to thousands of evacuees.”

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are showing similar excellence this time. The company, for example, established pharmacy to help in meeting the medical needs of individuals who are now sheltered at a Dallas convention center.

Tyson Foods team members have helped after disasters for years, but the company first started using its Meals that Matter disaster relief semi-trailer after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.

Workers at Tyson Foods facilities, including the company’s headquarters in Springdale, provided much-needed meal assistance to victims and volunteers after hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Sandy; ice storms in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky in 2009; the Joplin, Mo. and northern Alabama tornadoes in 2011; and other disasters across the U.S.

Naturals Reach Playoffs For Seventh Time in 10 Seasons

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are headed to the Texas League playoffs in pursuit of their second championship.

After home playoff games on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7 at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, the Naturals hit the road in the best-of-five series. Their likely first-round opponent is the Springfield Cardinals or the Tulsa Drillers as they lead the North Division in the second half.

Tickets to the playoffs are available at this link.

The Naturals advanced to the playoffs by winning the Texas League North in the first half of the season and are nearing the end of their 10th season in Arkansas.

The Wichita Wranglers moved to Springdale in 2008, playing their first season at Arvest Ballpark as the renamed Northwest Arkansas Naturals. While Major League Baseball teams periodically switch the teams that are part of their farm systems, the Naturals have remained a Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since arriving in Springdale.

The Naturals won their only league championship in 2010, knocking off the Midland RockHounds in the best-of-five series. Northwest Arkansas has reached the playoffs in seven of the team’s 10 seasons.

Many of the Kansas City Royals top players over the years spent significant time with the Naturals, including pitchers Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland, catcher Salvador Perez, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas. Other Major League Baseball stars, such as San Diego Padres first baseman Wil Myers, spent time in Springdale before moving on to other baseball organizations.