People in most regions would be ecstatic to pull off a year as good as 2017, but Northwest Arkansas is used to being exceptional.
Year 2017 had the added pressure of followed two impressive years. Year 2015 brought the opening of Scott Family Amazeum, major highway construction and the start of the Brightwater Culinary School. Year 2016 saw massive hospital expansions, record enrollment at the University of Arkansas and the finishing of a major Walton Arts Center expansion.
The fact is 2017 did just fine. Northwest Arkansas saw just as many projects get finished up as it did announcements of things to come, and it’s nice to have lots of both.
The Northwest Arkansas Council staff always cobbles together a year-end summary that hits the highlights of the year’s best happenings. In this case, there’s some repetition because projects that started in 2016 continued into 2017, and those projects carried significant value over both years.
Here are our favorite 2017 happenings in no particular order.
J.B. Hunt Expansion
The expansion at J.B. Hunt Transport Services was announced in 2015, but it didn’t finish up until 2017. With an additional 133,000 square feet just to the east of Interstate 49 in Lowell, the new building looks fantastic, and it's pictured at the top of this post. The company added hundreds of jobs as part of the expansion.
Downtown Tyson Foods
Tyson Foods maintains its corporate headquarters in another part of Springdale, but the company completed a downtown Springdale expansion. The Tyson-owned buildings in downtown will serve as the company’s technology hub.
The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation in August promised the University of Arkansas with the largest gift ever to support or establish a school of art. The $120 million gift will establish the university’s School of Art. In December, the Windgate Charitable Foundation provided $40 million to the university to create an art and design district in Fayetteville. Both gifts bode well for the region's future.
Northwest Arkansas' leading families, foundations and companies stepped up to provide millions of dollars in support to Arkansas Children’s Northwest, a new hospital that should open in January 2018. The biggest gift — $15 million — was provided by Tyson Foods and the Tyson family. Meanwhile, Mercy Northwest Arkansas made major progress on a seven-story, $127 million hospital tower in Rogers as part of advancing healthcare across the region. That $247 million Mercy project, announced in April 2016, brought four now-completed medical clinics (three in Rogers, one in Pea Ridge) to the region in 2017. Additionally, Mercy broke ground on clinics in Springdale and southwest Bentonville. The hospital tower should be complete in August 2019.
The community broke ground in June on a permanent home for Northwest Arkansas’ only professional theatre company. The TheatreSquared fund-raising campaign is going strong, with a goal of reaching $34 million. The venue in Fayetteville should be open in 2019.
The world’s largest company made a big-time commitment to its hometown in the fall, planning to build a new corporate headquarters in Bentonville. That headquarters will be a few blocks east of the Bentonville Square. The company has employees in more than 20 buildings in the city, and plans to put most of those workers on the same campus. There’s been no groundbreaking just yet, but the construction is expected to be a five- to seven-year project. Is there any chance the Walmart headquarters project doesn't make this list in 2018, 2019 and beyond?
Employers Expect 3,621 Jobs
The annual Employer Retention and Expansion Survey completed by the Northwest Arkansas Council and five area chambers of commerce isn’t as flashy or high profile as other work in the region, but it’s certainly important. A March report showed the 477 companies that were contacted planned to hire 3,621 employees over three years. The annual survey’s findings were first published in 2013, and the most recent survey had the highest number for anticipated job creation.
Simmons Foods Jobs
The Siloam Springs company announced in September that it will build a $300 million facility between Gentry and Decatur, providing 1,500 jobs. The 315,000-square-foot operation will have the capacity to process 850 million pounds of poultry a year.
Huge Highway Projects
There’s no scenario in which the region’s biggest completed highway project doesn’t make the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Top 10. This time it's a six-mile section of the Bella Vista Bypass, a road the Council prefers to call the Missouri-Arkansas Connector. Honorable mentions go to the steady progress toward six-laning I-49 all the way from Bentonville to Fayetteville as well as the U.S. 412 Bypass project that's going to speed up the trip to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport once it's all done.
Best Places to Live
Northwest Arkansas made another impressive “best” list. This time it was in February when U.S. News & World Report put Northwest Arkansas at No. 5 on its list of Best Places to Live. The region’s amazing affordability clearly helped the region remain high when compared to the fancy, overpriced places.