Milken: Northwest Arkansas Among Elite Regions for Job, Wage Growth

A new report released Tuesday by the Milken Institute ranks Northwest Arkansas as the nation’s 24th best economic performer among the largest metropolitan areas.

It’s the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area’s highest ranking on the Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities list since 2007.

The 2015 Best Performing Cities Report put the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara MSA in California in the No. 1 position this year.

Northwest Arkansas’ rise on the list this year occurred for two primary reasons: Overall job growth and higher wages.

"There’s certainly strength in economies that are steady and grow," said Milken researcher Minoli Ratnatunga. "If you are stagnant, you don’t stay in the Top 50. Metros with a steadiness can be very strong.

"The Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro is finding its own path."

Northwest Arkansas produced the nation’s fourth best increase in wages over a five-year span (2008-13), increasing wages 12 percent faster than the U.S. average. Only the MSAs that include the cities of San Jose, San Francisco and Austin increased wages at a faster rate.

Northwest Arkansas was also a top performer in its rate of job growth, ranking No. 9 in the nation for its 2013-14 job growth, and No. 14 for its 2009-14 job growth.

Northwest Arkansas outperformed two of its five peer metropolitan areas on the 2015 list.

That's important because the Northwest Arkansas Council in its new three-year strategy, announced in January, began benchmarking against those five core metropolitan areas. In addition to No. 4 overall Austin, the Council and its partners are using Raleigh (No. 6), Madison (No. 20), Des Moines (No. 45) and Durham-Chapel Hill (No. 66) as comparison MSAs.

Arkansas had several metropolitan areas among the hundreds that were evaluated by Milken researchers.

Jonesboro performed well, ranked No. 14 among small MSAs. Hot Springs ranked No. 60; Texarkana was No. 197.

The three other large MSAs that include at least portions of Arkansas were also ranked. They were Little Rock (No. 128), Memphis (No. 182) and Fort Smith (No. 189).

Northwest Arkansas ranked No. 1 overall in the 2003 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.