Region Must Harness Talent of Everyone, Northwest Arkansas Leader Says

Ethnic and racial diversity in Northwest Arkansas will continue its steady increase over the next five years, demonstrating that the region must embrace the long-term transition to continue its stellar economic performance.

Sheerah Davis, Ben Hasan and Bootsie Ackerman talked before the start of the Northwest Arkansas Council's winter meeting at The Jones Center in Springdale. The meeting focused on diversity and inclusion and its importance to the region's long-term success.

Sheerah Davis, Ben Hasan and Bootsie Ackerman talked before the start of the Northwest Arkansas Council's winter meeting at The Jones Center in Springdale. The meeting focused on diversity and inclusion and its importance to the region's long-term success.

The region’s changing population is just one of the notable facts that can be gleaned from “Diversity: A Look at How Northwest Arkansas’ Population is Changing.” The new report was made public by the Northwest Arkansas Council and its WelcomeNWA and EngageNWA initiatives.

“We put this summary together to show the breadth of minority populations in the region and present information about how our region will change over the next five years,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Council. “Northwest Arkansas is changing by the day. We must take proactive steps to harness the talents and energy of everyone who chooses to make this region home to ensure that it remains one of the nation’s best places to live and work.”

The region’s increasing diversity was the central theme on Tuesday at the Council's winter meeting at The Jones Center in Springdale. Those who attended heard an insightful panel discussion and the participants included Ben Hasan, senior vice president and chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer at Walmart; Mary Oleksuik, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Tyson Foods; and Yvette Murphy-Erby, vice provost for diversity and inclusion at the University of Arkansas. Kyle Kellams of KUAF moderated the discussion.

Talk Business & Politics covered the event, noting Hasan's thoughts on what's possible in Northwest Arkansas. He said the region is already diverse, and it's now possible to make the region into an "inclusion capital." KNWA and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription required) also covered Tuesday's event.

Northwest Arkansas’ overall population change between 1990 and 2017 is nothing short of remarkable, but the region's growth of racially and ethnically diverse people is even more notable.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that just 10,000 Hispanic/Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders lived in Northwest Arkansas in 1990. Now, those ethnic and racial groups include more than 140,000 people, and they’ll account for 180,000 people by 2022.

Other interesting Northwest Arkansas statistics in the Diversity Report include:

  • Students in Northwest Arkansas school systems come from more than 70 countries and speak at least 63 languages.
  • Springdale is on pace to be the region’s first large city where the majority of the population is non-white. More than 37,000 people who do not identify as white live in the city today, and an additional 6,000 will live in the city within five years, projections suggest.
  • Bentonville has the region’s largest population of people from India and 451 students in the Bentonville School District speak Telugu, Tamil or Hindi. Those are primary languages in India.
  • Northwest Arkansas has one of the world’s largest populations of people from the Marshall Islands, and the vast majority live in Springdale. Statistics provided by the Springdale School District indicate about 1,100 Marshallese students were born in the Marshall Islands, but far more (nearly 1,700) were actually born in the United States.
  • Fourteen out of 20 Northwest Arkansas residents will be white in 2022. It was 19 out of every 20 in 1990.

That changing regional population has the Northwest Arkansas Council and a cross section of the community working to make living in the region easier for all people.

EngageNWA, one of the two Council initiatives, was created to help newcomers and all constituents of the regional community work together to broaden integration and engagement efforts. One of its purposes is to strengthen the local economy and position Northwest Arkansas as a community of engaged global talent.

WelcomeNWA, which was established last year by the Council, works with Northwest Arkansas cities and counties to implement policies and strategies that attract, welcome and integrate all who chose to call Northwest Arkansas home. The initiative spans a variety of areas, including education, economic opportunity and civic engagement.