Startups, Amazeum, New Flights Make Our 2015 'Best' List

Forbes and other publications crank out “best of” lists like crazy, and we at the Northwest Arkansas Council resisted the temptation to develop our own.

We couldn’t stop ourselves as 2015 neared its end.

Here’s our list of “10 Best in the Northwest" of 2015. Just to be clear, it’s a list and not a ranking of what’s most important.

1. Scott Family Amazeum

It’s our region’s first children’s museum and its opening in July was fantastic for our region because it provided a venue unlike anything else in Northwest Arkansas.

2. Record enrollment

The University of Arkansas had 26,754 students enrolled in the fall, a 2 percent increase over 2014. The 1,200 students who completed degree this month was a fall graduation record.

3. Jobs

J.B. Hunt Transport Services announced in December that it will be open its new tower in 2017 and bring more than 1,000 jobs to the region over the next six years. That’s a win for Northwest Arkansas.

4. More jobs

Tyson Foods will invest new money in downtown Springdale, opening a large office on Emma Avenue. The facility will house hundreds of Tyson Foods workers, and the decision should be a major boost for the city’s downtown area.

5. Workforce

One of Northwest Arkansas’ challenges remains building a great workforce, and colleges, universities, technical schools and school districts have expressed a willingness to create programs centered on improving workers' skills. Workers with better skills are a key to economic growth, and Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy is one of several excellent example of what's being accomplished.

6. Startups

Northwest Arkansas is increasingly being recognized as a great place for startups and for its support of those new companies. Several startups made major advancements in 2015, and we’re anxious to see which one grows up to be the next Lauren James, James + James Furniture or Country Outfitter. 

7. Brightwater culinary school

NorthWest Arkansas Community College announced in August that it will transform and expand its culinary arts and hospitality management program thanks to more than $15 million in grants from the Walton Family Foundation. The program, renamed “Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food,” will move to a former industrial plant on Eighth Street in Bentonville.

8. U.S. 412 Bypass

Did you really think the Northwest Arkansas Council would create a list like this without a highway expansion? Not a chance. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department broke group in April and will spend $101 million to build the first four-mile section of the U.S. 412 Bypass of Springdale.

9. San Francisco flights

Daily nonstop flights between centers of business are valuable because they save business travelers’ time. When United Airlines started flying from San Francisco (SFO) to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in October, it was a major upgrade. Big cities such as Birmingham, Tampa, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Nashville do not have nonstops to SFO.

10. Razorback Regional Greenway

It’s done; you knew that. But what’s most exciting about the region’s best bike-ped trail is that cities are adding extensions off it in all sorts of directions. While the main trail is now 37 miles and was complete early in the year, there were great new trails being added in late 2015. The Railyard natural surface bike park in Rogers is a great example.