State's Economy Flying at 'Cruising Altitude,' Researcher Says

University of Arkansas economist Kathy Deck talks with Zimri Hunt of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas after today’s business forecast luncheon in Rogers.

University of Arkansas economist Kathy Deck talks with Zimri Hunt of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas after today’s business forecast luncheon in Rogers.

The Northwest Arkansas economy is leading a state that’s performing well, according to the University of Arkansas’ leading economist.

Kathy Deck’s upbeat comments about the economies of Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas came at today’s business forecast luncheon presented by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas. The event is put on annually. Deck called her presentation “The Arkansas Economy in 2016: Cruising Altitude.”

“But even at cruising altitude, what happens?” Deck asked the more than 1,000 people who attended the annual event. “You can hit some turbulence.”

There’s been more cruising than bumpiness in Northwest Arkansas for years, and Deck’s optimistic view of the state’s economy brought especially high praise for Northwest Arkansas.

The region added 4,800 jobs last year, and Deck called that job growth and the region’s economy “nothing short of amazing.” She predicted Northwest Arkansas’ $20 billion economy would add 5,000 jobs in 2016.

The region’s strong economy for the past few years can be directly tied to its willingness and foresight to invest in big-ticket projects, Deck said. She mentioned the Scott Family Amazeum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walton Arts Center’s ongoing upgrades and the University of Arkansas’ interest in $160 million in upgrades to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium as proof that the region is willing to make big investments.

“I truly do believe the secret to success in any region is the investments,” Deck said. “Do not stop investing. The future is long.”

Deck also noted the region’s per capita income is impressive, passing the national average for the first time in 2011. In 2014, income was near $50,700 in Northwest Arkansas.

“You can’t overstate how important that is,” she said. “We’re different now. We have a standard of living that’s enviable.”

Later, she described personal income growth as one of the most important positive indications of how well Northwest Arkansas is performing overall.

“Personal income growth means this an even better place to live than we thought it was, and we thought it was pretty good,” Deck said.

Northwest Arkansas, a region that blew past 500,000 residents in mid-2014, includes Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs, Springdale and the surrounding communities.  Estimates suggest its population continues to increase by about 24 people a day.

The region in December 2015 supported 234,100 nonfarm jobs, a 2.1 percent increase over the prior year. The Center for Business and Economic Research publishes many economic statistics about the nation, Arkansas and the state's regional economies on its website.

The largest employers in the region include three Fortune 500 companies: Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services.

There are more than 1,450 Walmart suppliers located in the region that’s also home to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.