Record-Breaking Water Sales Validate NWA's Higher Population

Northwest Arkansas’ largest drinking water supplier broke its record for sales in Fiscal Year 2017, and the two-county area’s other primary water provider will approach an all-time sales record.

Both the Beaver Water District and the Benton/Washington Regional Public Water Authority delivered more water to their customers even though summer temperatures were below average. Those record sales in a year with cooler-than-normal summer weather indicates the region’s rising population is driving increased water consumption, said Larry Lloyd, the Beaver Water District’s chief operating officer.

The Beaver Water District’s four customers — the cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale — consumed an average of 51 million gallons a day in Fiscal Year 2017, which ended Sept. 30. That was up from 48.1 million in FY2016. This year’s water sales of 18.6 billion gallons eclipsed the record sales in 2016 by 6.06 percent.

The Northwest Arkansas Council gathered water consumption data from the two providers because it’s a way to validate the rapid growth in population that’s estimated each year by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We just keep selling more and more water, and it’s not because it’s hot and dry,” Lloyd said. “None of our record months were in the summer, and that alone suggests it’s all about the growth in the region.”

Meanwhile, sales at the Benton/Washington Regional Public Water Authority, more commonly referred to as “Two-Ton,” are on pace to be within 1 percent of its best sales year despite the cooler summer weather.  Scott Borman, the water authority’s general manager, said August’s average high temperature was near 83 degrees. The average August high over the past 40 years is 89 degrees, he said.

Through nine months of 2017, Two-Ton’s customers purchased 2.3 billion gallons. Those customers, who include 16 rural water providers and small cities, sold 3.1 billion gallons last year. It’s clear to Borman that the additional sales are generally to residential customers as its 16 members have about 1,000 more water meters than in 2016, Borman said.

For the Beaver Water District, the biggest growth is in Bentonville, where water consumption was up 11 percent over FY2016. Consumption increased in Fayetteville (5.6 percent), Rogers (4.5 percent) and Springdale (4.4 percent), too.

Population estimates published each March by the Census Bureau identify the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area (Northwest Arkansas) as one of the nation's fastest-growing regions. Between the April 2010 Census and July 2016, the region saw its population increase by about 27 people a day. The region's population was near 525,000 in July 2016, but it's now likely to be near 536,000 residents if the region has continued adding 27 people daily.

Future growth is possible, in part, because the water suppliers are well position to provide more drinking water to their customers as their prepared to pull millions of additional gallons from Beaver Lake as the growth continues.

Through the year’s first nine months, Two-Ton’s peak consumption was near 24 million gallons a day with its daily average near 9.5 million gallons. Its plant can deliver 40 million gallons to customers if necessary. That Two-Ton water is delivered to some of the region's fastest-growing cities, including Centerton and other communities in western Benton County.

The Beaver Water District can treat up to 140 million gallons daily, and its peak day in Fiscal Year 2017 was near 68 million gallons.

 

Report: NWA Sees Rising Wages, More College Degrees

Northwest Arkansas’ robust economy continues to make steady progress, a report published Tuesday by the University of Arkansas shows.

Mervin Jebaraj, interim director of the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research, describes the outstanding peer regions that Northwest Arkansas is using as benchmarks in the annual State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report.

Mervin Jebaraj, interim director of the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research, describes the outstanding peer regions that Northwest Arkansas is using as benchmarks in the annual State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report.

The 2017 State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report gives an overall view of the region, and it shows the metropolitan area is improving in areas such as educational attainment, annual wages, job creation, unemployment rate and poverty rate. The university’s Center for Business and Economic Research since 2011 has published the report each fall in collaboration with the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Mervin Jebaraj, the center’s interim director, shared the report’s findings at a luncheon attended by more than 250 people. It demonstrates how the region has progressed, comparing Northwest Arkansas to peer regions that include Austin-Round Rock, Des Moines-West Des Moines, Durham-Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Madison.

“Northwest Arkansas as a region is ambitious, which is why we compare ourselves to some of the fastest-growing metro areas around the country," Jebaraj said. "When compared to those peer regions, Northwest Arkansas does really well in key metrics like the growth rate of the regional economy, employment growth and labor force gains, commute times, and housing affordability.

"The region needs to continue investing in entrepreneurship and university research and development to grow new business establishments, and we need to ensure that an adequate mix of housing is available to  maintain our housing affordability.”

Nelson Peacock, the president and CEO of the Council, talked about taking advantage of opportunities to increase the pursuit of federal research funding at the University of Arkansas and about the region's need for daily low-cost air service at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport to create competition that would drive down the cost of flights. The only area where Northwest Arkansas is not seeing improvement is in airfares, which are more expensive than at most airports across the U.S.

The Northwest Arkansas Council has a long history of using other regions and success elsewhere to provide a roadmap and insight into what can be accomplished in Northwest Arkansas. When the Council announced its new three-year strategic plan in 2015, its leadership purposely chose Austin and the other regions as benchmarks because they were ahead of Northwest Arkansas in many performance areas. The decision to benchmark against excellent regions was intentional.

Report Highlights

Metropolitan GDP – Real metropolitan gross domestic product in Northwest Arkansas grew to almost $24 billion, and it was up 3.9 percent. Austin-Round Rock and Raleigh saw real metropolitan GDP grow faster between 2015 and 2016, but Northwest Arkansas outgrew Madison, Des Moines-West Des Moines and Durham-Chapel Hill.

Employment – Employment in Northwest Arkansas grew 4 percent in the most recent year, faster than all peer communities. Only the Austin-Round Rock average growth over five years (4.3 percent) outpaced Northwest Arkansas' five-year growth (3.7 percent).

Unemployment – No peer community had a lower unemployment rate than Northwest Arkansas’ 2.9 percent in 2016. Northwest Arkansas and all of its peer communities saw unemployment decrease by at least 1.5 percent between 2012 and 2016. The decrease in Northwest Arkansas was 3 percent.

Establishment Growth – Northwest Arkansas isn’t increasing its number of businesses as rapidly as its peer communities. The average peer community increased businesses by 4 percent; the increase in Northwest Arkansas was 2.7 percent. The region saw 328 new businesses established in 2016.

Median Household Income – Northwest Arkansas’ median household income increased 2.1 percent in the most recent year, but it remains far behind its peer regions. While Northwest Arkansas income rose to $51,848 last year, five of six peers have household incomes above $65,000 annually.

Annual Wages – Average annual wages in Northwest Arkansas have been consistently lower than in  peer regions and the nation as a whole. Wages have increased 1.9 percent since 2012. The rate of growth is similar to peer regions. It's worth noting that Northwest Arkansas' cost of living is less than in peer regions.

Poverty – Northwest Arkansas has reduced its poverty rate to 13.2 percent. The rate was above 17 percent in 2012. Four of the five peer regions have lower poverty rates.

Educational Attainment – The percentage of Northwest Arkansas residents age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher continues to increase. It reached 30.9 percent in 2016, but Northwest Arkansas still lags behind its peers. At least 36.7 percent of residents in all peer regions have earned a bachelor’s degrees or higher.

NW Arkansas Group to Seek $32.4M for Missouri I-49

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday approved its staff's request to pursue federal funding for the Missouri portion of the Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector.

Thirty-eight people, including elected officials from McDonald County and the city of Anderson in Missouri, attended Wednesday's meeting. They each voiced strong support for the project, describing its importance to long-distance travelers as well as Missourians who commute to work in Northwest Arkansas.

The commission's application for the grant is critical toward completing the unfinished section of I-49. If the request for a $32.4 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant is awarded, there would be enough money to transition I-49 into a 265-mile, uninterrupted highway from Fort Smith and Kansas City.

The news media gave extensive coverage to Wednesday's decision. Stories were shared by KNWAKFSMNorthwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, KUAF and Talk Business & Politics.

Missouri owns all the property that's needed for the roadway and the highway has been fully designed.

The deadline to apply is Nov. 2. The program has $1.5 billion available in INFRA grants.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to pursue a $32.4 million federal grant to complete a section of Interstate 49 in Missouri.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to pursue a $32.4 million federal grant to complete a section of Interstate 49 in Missouri.

The Missouri-Arkansas Connector for two decades has been described as the Bella Vista Bypass, but the regional planning commission staff started using the new name to better describe the location of the project. It'll take more nationwide familiarity to obtain federal funding for the high-priority project.

The step being taken by the regional planning commission in Arkansas to seek money for a Missouri project appears unusual on its face, but the commission's staff confirmed with the Federal Highway Administration that the commission is an eligible applicant. That's because the entirety of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector is in the commission's metropolitan planning area boundary.

The Northwest Arkansas Council has consistently identified the completion of the 19-mile, four-lane divided highway between Bentonville, Arkansas and Pineville, Missouri as a top regional priority.

Arkansas already has the funding it needs to complete the 14 miles of the connector that are in the Natural State.

Both the Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Missouri Department of Transportation have expressed their support for the planning commission's application. Arkansas, in fact, would provide the federally required matching funds for the Missouri project, allowing the money received from a half-cent sales tax approved by Arkansas voters in 2012 to serve as that match.

The federal funding to the Missouri portion of I-49 would kick off new highway construction in Northwest Arkansas as Arkansas has waited for Missouri funding to be identified before advancing three of its own projects.

Arkansas would start building a $26 million, two-mile section just south of the Missouri line, and the picture that's included with this post shows where the highway currently ends near County Road 34 in Benton County.

Arkansas also would begin a $43 million single-point urban interchange at the other end of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector near the Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Bentonville, replacing a temporary roundabout that was completed at that site earlier this year.

Arkansas plans to transition two-lane sections of the connector into a four-lane, divided, interstate-quality highway. The current 11 miles is Arkansas is just two lanes and Arkansas has all the funding that's necessary for that work, too.

 

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.”