NW Arkansas Poised to Be Top 100 MSA

Northwest Arkansas is on pace to be one of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas within three years, an analysis by the Northwest Arkansas Council shows.

The annual analysis is conducted after the U.S. Census Bureau releases new population estimates. The group of Census Bureau estimates, which showed the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA (Northwest Arkansas) had 525,032 residents as of July 1, 2016, was made public today.

Cory Meyer of Modus Studio, the firm that designed Uptown Fayetteville Apartments + Shops, talks with a worker at the construction site.

Cory Meyer of Modus Studio, the firm that designed Uptown Fayetteville Apartments + Shops, talks with a worker at the construction site.

The bureau reported Northwest Arkansas is the 22nd fastest-growing metro in the U.S. It ranked 24th among 382 metropolitan areas last year.

As the nation’s 105th largest MSA, Northwest Arkansas’ population growth since 2010 suggests the region earlier this month slipped past No. 104 Portland, Maine, the Council’s analysis showed.

By late 2019, Northwest Arkansas should eclipse slower-growing Youngstown, Ohio; Lancaster, Pa.; Scranton, Pa.; and Modesto, Calif.

Northwest Arkansas, in fact, seems poised to move up even faster as the region’s population increase in the past two years (30.3 people per day in 2015 and 31.7 people per day in 2016) was rapid than in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The region’s daily increase since April 2010 averages about 27 people.

The Council’s analysis assumes the number of people added each day to the populations of all MSAs since 2010 continues to be exactly the same in future years. It’s recalculated each year based on the most current Census Bureau estimates.

That growth has led to more construction of houses and housing complexes. Among the largest is the 308-unit Uptown Fayetteville Apartments + Shops that going up in a northern area of the city. The mixed-use development, which has a large section of apartment units on the south end that area already being occupied, will include 17,000 square feet of retail space.

 Remarkable job opportunities and quality of life amenities play important role in the region’s growth, making the region more attractive to people relocating to Northwest Arkansas.

Northwest Arkansas is known nationally as the home to three Fortune 500 companies (Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt), but many other Fortune 500 companies have employees based on the region to do business with Walmart. The Walmart suppliers with offices in the region include Procter & Gamble, Mondelez International, 3M, General Mills, Disney, Coca-Cola, Kimberly Clark, Johnson & Johnson, Hershey and more than 1,400 other companies.

The University of Arkansas, which has significantly increased its enrollment in recent years, helps fuel the region's growth, too.

Northwest Arkansas has benefitted from upgrades to its healthcare systems, investing $500 million into those improvements at Mercy Northwest Arkansas and Washington Regional Medical Center. As part of that investment, Arkansas Children’s Northwest, the state's second children's hospital, is under construction in Springdale.

Quality of life investments over the past decade are making the region more attractive to those considering relocating from elsewhere for job opportunities in Northwest Arkansas. Those investments include Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walmart AMPScott Family Amazeum, the Walton Arts Center expansion, Arvest Ballpark and the Razorback Regional Greenway.

Other information gleaned from the Census Bureau estimates includes the following:

  • Move-ins exceed births. It’s possible to see how Northwest Arkansas added 31.7 people a day to its population in the most recent year. The Census Bureau estimates show 21.5 more people move into the MSA than move away from it. Another 20 people are born in Northwest Arkansas. An average of 9.8 deaths occur each day in the region.
  • Outgrows Omaha, Cincinnati. Northwest Arkansas added more people between 2010 and 2016 than larger metropolitan areas, including Omaha-Council Bluffs, Durham-Chapel Hill, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Louisville and Little Rock.
  • Sits at No. 105 in nation. The Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA increased its population by 61,828 residents between April 2010 and July 2016. That ranked 105th nationally.
  • Squeezes in a Rogers. The population increase in Northwest Arkansas between 2010 and July 2016 is roughly equal to adding a city the size of Rogers to the region.
  • Sees state’s highest percentage growth. The three Arkansas counties with the highest growth rates between July 2015 and July 2016 are all in Northwest Arkansas: Benton (2.98 percent), Madison (2.26 percent) and Washington (1.7 percent).
  • Ranks No. 1 in state; No. 88 in nation. Benton County added more people to its population between July 2015 and July 2016 that any Arkansas county. With a population of 258,291, just 87 of the nation’s more than 3,100 counties and parishes added more people. The Benton County population increased by 7,440 people.
  • Sees major growth in MSA’s smallest county. Census estimates show Northwest Arkansas’ Madison County added 355 people to increase to 16,072 residents. Only eight of the state’s other 74 counties added more people.  The state’s largest county — Pulaski — added 318 people.

Survey: Employers Expect 3,621 Hires

A Northwest Arkansas survey showed employers plan to hire more workers over the next three years than they reported in any of four previous annual inquiries.

The 477 employers participating in the 2016 Employer Retention and Expansion (ERE) survey expect to hire 3,621 workers over the next three years. It’s considered a good economic sign when employers expect to hire more people in future years.

The regional ERE survey, a collaboration between the Northwest Arkansas Council and five Northwest Arkansas chambers of commerce, has been conducted five times. The previous high for the number of new jobs expected was in 2015 when employers predicted they would hire 3,161 workers over three years.

Theresa Rasco, a worker at Delta Group Electronics, uses equipment to inspect a circuit boards, making sure parts are placed correctly. The Fayetteville company assembles the boards.

Theresa Rasco, a worker at Delta Group Electronics, uses equipment to inspect a circuit boards, making sure parts are placed correctly. The Fayetteville company assembles the boards.

“It’s encouraging to hear companies optimistic about their future in Northwest Arkansas, but we also know we need to continue assisting them with a concerted effort to develop talent here and attract talent from elsewhere,” said Mike Harvey, interim president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “Our region’s low unemployment is great news, but it also makes expansions and adding large numbers of workers more difficult.”

The survey’s other key findings:

  • Employers expect to spend $503 million on expansions in the next three years. That’s up from $336 million in 2015.
  • 27 percent of employers plan to expand within three years. That figure was 25 percent in 2015.
  • Surveys conducted late in 2016 showed employers were optimistic about getting relief from federal regulations.
  • Survey participants are asked to identify community strengths and weaknesses and the positive business climate was the top Northwest Arkansas strength identified by PRIME employers, the companies that manufacture, distribute and operate headquarters in the region.  Business climate has remained the most commonly identified strength since the survey’s inception.
  • 57 of the survey’s 210 PRIME employers listed skilled worker supply as a community weakness. It was the most common identified weakness.
  • Commercial, Retail, Tourism and Service (CRTS) companies, which include such businesses as restaurants, banks and retail stores, listed Northwest Arkansas’ stable economy as the top strength. Transportation and infrastructure were often listed as weaknesses.
  • 54 percent of PRIME employers reported job-recruiting problems. That’s an improvement over the 69 percent in 2015.
  • The ERE survey allows outreach specialists from chambers of commerce in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers-Lowell, Siloam Springs, and Springdale to conduct confidential, face-to-face interviews with employers in their communities. Some employers participating in the survey are the same each year, but many are new. The Northwest Arkansas Council coordinates the survey, and it compiles the findings.

The responses during the interviews often lead to the Council and the chambers of commerce taking steps to assist companies with challenges they face.

For example, the Council in mid-2016 created Finding Northwest Arkansas (Finding NWA), a program to help people from elsewhere gain a full knowledge of job opportunities, schools, communities and quality of life in Northwest Arkansas.

The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, worked with a landowner after an ERE visit in 2015 and convinced him to construct a spec building, something that’s in short supply. With the building under construction in 2016, the chamber helped find a tenant, providing room to expand for a fast-growing Fayetteville company.

“The chambers of commerce in Northwest Arkansas are excellent when it comes to introducing companies to one another to find solutions,” Harvey said. “The ERE visits have allowed the chambers of commerce to acquire a deeper knowledge of what companies need and the challenges they face, and the chambers are experts on the resources available in their communities. The Fayetteville example demonstrates why it’s important to make ERE visits.”

ERE visits played a key role in the Northwest Arkansas Council’s decision to work with educators and ask them to expand workforce training. Community colleges and universities, Northwest Technical Institute and high schools in Benton and Washington counties are doing more to meet those workforce needs than they were just two or three years ago, Harvey said.


NW Arkansas Sits at No. 5 on Best Places to Live

A national publication ranked Northwest Arkansas at No. 5 on its list of Best Places to Live.

Only Austin, Denver, San Jose and Washington, DC were ranked ahead of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area on the Best Places to Live list published today by U.S. News & World Report.

"When considering a move, people are concerned about finding a job in their field, earning enough to afford a home, sending their kids to good schools and feeling like a part of their community," said Kim Castro, executive editor at U.S. News on the publication's blog. "The Best Places to Live ranking takes all of that into account – the metro areas that do well are the ones with strong job markets and high quality of life."

Northwest Arkansas' strengths on the annual Best Places list include the region's overall affordability as it was placed at No. 3 among all the ranked MSAs in terms of overall value. Its net migration (ranked at No. 12) demonstrates that Northwest Arkansas is seeing far more people move in compared to those who are moving away.

The publication used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the FBI uniform crime report and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to rank the top 100 places.

The ranking published by U.S. News & World Report is among the more important lists each year. The Northwest Arkansas Council has zeroed in on a few of the rankings such as those published by Forbes, the Milken Institute and U.S. News & World Report as being among the best barometers of how Northwest Arkansas compares to other places.

Maybe the most important aspect of the annual lists of U.S. News, Forbes and the Milken Institute is they create conversations around community strengths and shortfalls and they cause people to make comparisons about cost of living, quality of life and desirability. It's not every day that Northwest Arkansas or Fayetteville get mentioned by The Seattle Times, Milwaukee Journal and The Washington Post. There was even a quick mention on a Denver television station.

The U.S. News & World Report ranking also shows the region stacks up well against peer regions identified by the Northwest Arkansas Council in early 2015. The identified benchmark communities are consistently among the top performers on the U.S. News list. Northwest Arkansas’ peers include Austin (No. 1),  Raleigh/Durham (No. 7),  Des Moines (No. 9) and Madison, Wisconsin (No. 18).

Northwest Arkansas was ranked No. 3 on the Best Places to Live list in 2016.


Hospitals, Venture Fund Make Our 2016 'Best' List

Hospitals, Venture Fund Make Our 2016 'Best' List

Every look at the future should start with at least some reflection on what happened in the recent past. There’s no better time to do that than at year’s end.

Northwest Arkansas in 2015 saw the opening of the Amazeum, a huge new jobs announcement by J.B. Hunt, a downtown Springdale project for Tyson Foods, the start of the Brightwater Culinary School and the beginning of U.S. 412 Bypass construction.

Have no fear — 2015 was a tough act to follow, but 2016 was solid. Those of us at the Northwest Arkansas Council picked a few of our “Best of Northwest Arkansas in 2016.” Here are our favorites in no particular order.