Initiative Aims to Create First 'Welcoming Region'

The Northwest Arkansas Council on Saturday announced details of its new WelcomeNWA initiative. The WelcomeNWA program was created to assist Northwest Arkansas communities in becoming more welcoming to anyone who calls this region home - whether they come from another country, another state, or another Arkansas region.

Increasing efforts to be more inclusive will lead to a positive economic impact and other regional benefits.

WelcomeNWA Director Margot Lemaster talked Saturday at a National Welcoming Week event in Springdale about the Northwest Arkansas Council's new initiative.

WelcomeNWA Director Margot Lemaster talked Saturday at a National Welcoming Week event in Springdale about the Northwest Arkansas Council's new initiative.

WelcomeNWA Director Margot Lemaster announced the new initiative at a National Welcoming Week celebration organized by EngageNWA at Shiloh Square in downtown Springdale. The announcement coincided with four Northwest Arkansas cities — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bella Vista — issuing proclamations in honor of National Welcoming Week.

“Welcoming newcomers to our region is important because they help strengthen our economy and they fill gaps throughout our labor force,” Lemaster said. “Newcomers bring vibrancy to our downtowns and neighborhoods and they help Northwest Arkansas grow the diversity of our region’s cultural amenities.”

Initial goals of WelcomeNWA include working with Northwest Arkansas cities to develop a regional strategic plan to welcome and integrate everyone living in Northwest Arkansas.

Another goal is to establish Northwest Arkansas as the nation’s first “welcoming region.” To be recognized as a “welcoming region,” a collection of Northwest Arkansas cities or the counties need to sign on to take steps to assist newcomers. It will be up to each city to decide how to become more welcoming to newcomers. For some, that will mean taking steps such as providing utility bills in other languages while others may look at ways to offer support to immigrant and minority-owned businesses.

While cities and counties across the U.S. have been recognized as welcoming by Welcome America, there’s no place where an entire region is officially recognized as welcoming. In addition to Fayetteville in Northwest Arkansas, the cities already recognized as welcoming include a true cross section of America: Dayton, Ohio; Chicago; Dallas; Memphis; Dodge City, Kan.; Raleigh; Richmond, Va.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Austin, Texas.

The WelcomeNWA program recently received support from two national organizations. New American Economy and Welcoming America selected WelcomeNWA for the nationally competitive Gateways for Growth Challenge. The Gateways for Growth Challenge will help support the effort by involving national experts to help guide and support a strategic planning process in Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s clear that many local governments in Northwest Arkansas already have taken significant steps to make people from elsewhere more easily able to call our region home,” LeMaster said. “We want to give every city and both counties the opportunity to do even more, and we know excellent opportunities exist.”