What’s most remarkable in the new population estimates made public by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier today is the reported one-year growth in the small city of Tontitown and in much larger Bentonville.
The Census Bureau estimates Tontitown, which is just west of Springdale, saw its population swell by 25.1 percent between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. It added more people to its population in a single year (702 new residents) than it did in the previous five years combined (335).
Among Arkansas’ largest cities, Bentonville is the fast-growth superstar.
Spurred by the openings of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Scott Family Amazeum and by incredible investments into the city’s fantastic downtown area over the past several years, Bentonville reached 47,093 people as of July 2016.
No city in the state added more new residents than the 2,427 people who moved to Bentonville between July 2015 and July 2016. Rogers (1,642 new residents), Benton (1,628), Fayetteville (1,370), Jonesboro (1,081) and Springdale (1,075) were the other cities in the state to add more than 1,000 residents in that year, the bureau estimates.
Yet, Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin suggests the Census estimate is likely below the true population.
"The current population is likely well in excess of the reported 47,000," McCaslin said. "The city utilities billing department currently has more than 23,300 accounts. The factors used by the U.S. Census would put us well over 50,000 based on the number of accounts.
"The growth we see in our public schools is consistent with our projection. I confidently predict the 2020 Census will record Bentonville’s population to be in the low- to mid-50,000 range."
A collection of small cities and towns in Northwest Arkansas experienced solid growth in that same year, and most of them serve as bedroom communities to their larger neighbors. In addition to Tontitown’s more than 25 percent growth, the estimated one-year growth rates were impressive in Cave Springs (17.3 percent), Centerton (6.7 percent), Goshen (5.7 percent), Lowell (4.1 percent) and Prairie Grove (3.7 percent).
Much of that Northwest Arkansas growth over the past several years can be attributed to expansions at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and at the region’s largest companies. Bentonville-based Walmart remains at the top of the Fortune 500 list, and Springdale-based Tyson Foods is investing in new downtown offices that's expected to spur downtown growth in Springdale. Meanwhile, Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services is putting the finishing touches on a new office tower where hundreds of new employees will work.
Additionally, the region’s Walmart supplier community has continued to expand for two decades. There were about 450 Walmart supplier offices in the region in 2000; there are now more than 1,600 suppliers, including several offices with more than 100 employees.
City governments and school districts have certainly played an important role in the continuing growth with their investments in better roads, water quality protection, new schools, emergency services and parks.
That’s been combined with the good work and investments of regional partners such as the Beaver Water District, the Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority, the Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority, the Walton Family Foundation and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. They all helped make the population growth possible by providing services needed by new residents and the amenities wanted by those who are moving to the region.
There’s no indication that the population growth will slow anytime soon, either. The regional planning commission estimates the four-county Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area will by near 800,000 residents by 2040. It’s near 525,000 residents today.