ConnectNWA Aims to Engage Newcomers

Business and community leaders met Tuesday to discuss and identify ways to assist newcomers in becoming more engaged in Northwest Arkansas.

ConnectNWA, sponsored by Walmart Stores Inc., was hosted in Springdale by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Northwest Arkansas Council. It brought together 50 leaders for a one-day summit focused on connecting newcomers.

The primary focus of the summit was on newcomers who are immigrants moving to Northwest Arkansas by choice from abroad or other parts of the U.S., people who relocate for two to five years as part of an employer’s work assignment, and young people who remained in or moved to Northwest Arkansas after graduating from college.

Benton and Washington counties, the area referred to as Northwest Arkansas, adds an average of 30 people a day. The metropolitan statistical area, which also includes Madison County, Ark. and McDonald County, Mo., is on pace to reach 500,000 residents by mid-2014.

The summit’s facilitators included United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce CEO Al Zapanta, Migration Policy Institute Senior Policy Analyst Randy Capps and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation CEO Sherece West-Scantlebury.

“The summit is an opportunity to bring the community together to better understand the benefits of a diverse workforce,” said Lee Culpepper, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Walmart.

The summit’s purpose was to bring together regional and national influencers to share and exchange insights and best practices. It also was intended to launch a partnership of regional leaders to design and oversee efforts indented to further engage newcomers to Northwest Arkansas.

“The majority of Northwest Arkansas’ newcomers are immigrants, work-related relocatees or college graduates,” said Mike Malone, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a private nonprofit organization focused on improving quality of life, education, infrastructure and economic opportunity in Northwest Arkansas. “Our ability to engage newcomers in our community and helping them find success here is critical to our region moving forward.”

Those participating in the summit represented churches, community organizations, colleges and universities, cities, school districts and businesses.