Forecast: NW Arkansas Leads State's Job Growth

Northwest Arkansas’ remarkable economy is likely to produce 11 of every 12 jobs in the state over the next year, a University of Arkansas economist predicted.

Kathy Deck, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in the university’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, made the assertion today during the annual Business Forecast Luncheon in Rogers. She believes the state will add 4,800 jobs over the next year, and 4,400 of them will be in the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area.

Deck, noting that “you can’t miss” the huge hospital construction projects along Northwest Arkansas’ Interstate 49 corridor, said the region’s health-care job growth should lead the way.

Yet, the region and the state both face challenges, Deck said. They include the fact that job training that does exist in Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas doesn’t necessarily match up well with available jobs and the percentage of people with college degrees could be higher. About 31 percent of Northwest Arkansas residents over the age of 25 have a college degree; it’s near 22 percent statewide.

Deck, calling her presentation “The Arkansas Economy in 2017: Keep Your Seatbelts Fastened in Case of Turbulence,” had described the state’s economy in a far different way only a year ago. At the 2016 business forecast luncheon, she’d described the economy as being at “cruising altitude.”

“I would say we’re now circling and trying to avoid the turbulence,” Deck said.

Northwest Arkansas economy has led the way in Arkansas for decades, and its expansions over the past 10 years are particularly noteworthy. While the region’s economy continues to rely heavily on the success of the University of Arkansas and the large headquarters operations of Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, the job expansions in health care and the rising number of business startups are encouraging.

The region’s quality-of-life amenities over the past decade are also impressive. She listed Arvest Ballpark, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Scott Family Amazeum, the Railyard Bike Park, and the Razorback Regional Greenway as additions since 2007. Microbreweries are now scattered across the region and they generally didn’t exist in Northwest Arkansas in 2007, and the University of Arkansas has two-thirds of what’s now more than 27,000 students.