A strong connection can be made between Northwest Arkansas’ improving quality of life and the region’s steady rise in per capita personal income, a leading economist says.
Kathy Deck, who is director of the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research, said data kept by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Northwest Arkansas now ranks 31st nationally among 382 metropolitan statistical areas in per capita personal income.
Meanwhile, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA, which is more commonly referred to as Northwest Arkansas, has a cost of living that ranks 282nd among those same 382 MSAs. U.S. News and World Report just last week recognized the high value of Northwest Arkansas when it ranked the region at No. 3 overall among the nation's 100 largest MSAs on its list of Best Places to Live.
The low cost of living coupled with the per capita imcome means each dollar buys more in Northwest Arkansas.
“PCPI is the gold standard for comparing quality of life in countries, regions, states, and communities,” Deck said. “For those of us who live in Northwest Arkansas, it’s always been surprising that our standard of living statistics didn’t even measure at the national average. But, since the end of the great recession, we’ve experienced the kinds of growth rates that make our lived experience match the data. What’s happening now is a reflection of all the infrastructure, both physical and cultural, that’s been put in place here. This region is just an amazing value.”
The bureau late last year reported per capita personal income in Northwest Arkansas was $50,686 in 2014, the most recent data available.
It’s an amount bigger than Tulsa ($49,807) Dallas-Fort Worth ($49,506); Oklahoma City ($46,675); Kansas City ($46,319); Little Rock ($40,925); and Springfield, Mo. ($35,931). The nearest MSA with a higher per capita personal income is Houston ($54,820), a metro region more than 500 miles from Northwest Arkansas.
What’s driven the rise in per capita personal income is that Northwest Arkansas over the past eight years has made major investments in quality-of-life amenities, Deck said.
The biggest of those was Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in 2011, but the openings of the Scott Family Amazeum, Arvest Ballpark, the Walmart AMP and Razorback Regional Greenway can be credited with improving the region’s quality of life, too.
Major quality-of-life investments are ahead, too, as a renovation of the Walton Arts Center, the transformative expansion of the culinary arts and hospitality program at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, and the opening of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Northwest Arkansas campus will occur over the next three years. Major investments are already being made in the region’s downtowns, and those are expected to continue over the next several years.
All that growth comes in a region where per capita personal income wasn’t always so high. In fact, Northwest Arkansas’ per capita personal income was below the national average until 2011.
In 1970, per capita personal income in Northwest Arkansas was just two-thirds of the national average of $4,196, and it was below the state’s average of $2,920, too.
In 1980, the region’s per capita personal income topped $7,500 for the first time, but at $7,510, it was still slightly below the state and national averages.
Northwest Arkansas passed the state average in 1982, and per capita personal income is now 34 percent higher in Northwest Arkansas than in other parts of Arkansas.