Surging Water Sales Lead Northwest Arkansas' Stats

From record-breaking water sales to the highest number of passengers to board flights at the regional airport in a single year, Northwest Arkansas remained a statistical superstar in 2018.

Indeed, Northwest Arkansas’ growth can be evaluated in all sorts of ways to better understand how the region is changing, and January ends up being the perfect time to figure out how last year’s stats compare to previous years.

That’s why the Northwest Arkansas Council worked with county assessors, cities, water providers, entertainment venues, museums, and transportation systems to identify as many ways as possible to size up the region’s growth trends. While community leaders talk most often about how many people a day are added to the Northwest Arkansas population, other statistics provide additional insight about how and exactly where the region is growing the fastest.

More Drinking Water: Beaver Water District sales exceeded 20 billion gallons for the first time as the water wholesaler delivered 20.1 billion gallons to the cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale. Some of those cities sell portions of their water to smaller cities such as Farmington, Elkins and Tontitown.

The Fiscal Year 2018 sales were an 8.1 percent increase over 2017. Bentonville (up 13.6 percent) and Fayetteville (10.3 percent) saw the biggest increases among the four cities.

Some of the largest increases came in non-summer months, suggesting it was population growth rather than high temperatures that drove up water consumption, said Amy Wilson, the district’s public affairs director.

The Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority, better known as Two-Ton, saw sales increase 12.3 percent. The system sold 3.5 billion gallons in all, up from 3.1 billion gallons in 2017.

Two-Ton customers with the biggest sales increases were Benton County Water District No. 1 at Avoca (up 40 percent), the city of Centerton (34 percent), and the Bella Vista Property Owners Association (26 percent). Two-Ton’s 16 customers are small cities and rural water systems in Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas as well as Westville, Okla.

More Passengers at XNA: The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport saw 788,261 passenger board flights in 2018. That’s an 8.7 percent increase over 2017. American Airlines remains the airport’s dominant carrier with 49.6 percent of passengers, but Delta Air Lines (23.6 percent) and United Airlines (21.4 percent) are prominent at XNA, too. Allegiant Air, which provides affordable, less-than-daily flights to Orlando, Las Vegas, Las Angeles and Destin, accounts for about 5 percent of the airport’s traffic.

The year-after-year increases in people boarding flights at XNA bode well for the airport’s ability to attract additional airline service.

Rising Sales Tax Collections: Talk Business & Politics reported Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale saw a 10.5 percent rise in sales tax revenue. The most impressive growth is in Bentonville as sales tax collections rose 37.9 percent to $16.5 million, meaning the region’s fourth largest city in population was second in sales tax revenue.

There’s a great list of sales tax-related stories on the Talk Business & Politics website, providing monthly updates on sales tax figures from Northwest Arkansas’ largest cities.

More Vehicles: Records kept by the assessors’ offices in Benton and Washington counties show residents own 2 percent more cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles than they did at the end of 2017. The figures do not include vehicles owned by businesses.

The biggest increases were the number of trucks and sport utility vehicles (up 4.2 percent in Benton County; 2.7 percent in Washington County).

There are 426,310 cars, trucks and SUVs in the two counties. Trucks and SUVs are far more prominent than cars, accounting for about 61 percent of the total.

University Enrollment: The state’s flagship university in Fayetteville announced in September that its enrollment of 27,778 students was 220 more than in the Fall 2017.

The University of Arkansas had fewer than 20,000 students in 2009.

Walmart AMP: The Rogers outdoor music venue, which brings some of the nation’s top acts, put on 20 shows as part of its Cox Concert Series in Fiscal Year 2018. It averaged 7,792 attendees.

Its attendance is up in FY2019, which started April 1. The 28 shows averaged 7,897 attendees, a 1.3 percent increase.

Walton Arts Center: The performing arts center’s fiscal year ended June 30 with a 15.1 percent increase in attendance at its events. The center’s ticket sales were 92,192 in FY2018.

Art Museum Tops 4.2 Million: The popularity of the Dale Chihuly exhibition drove up visits to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2017, yet the museum nearly matched its number of visitors last year thanks to new sculptures in the museum’s North Forest and new programming.

About 600,000 people visited the museum in 2018; more than 4.2 million people have stopped in since its 2011 opening, said Beth Bobbitt, the museum’s public relations director.

Transitioning Bus System: Ozark Regional Transit’s year-end stats are among the most interesting because the public transportation provider is changing from its focus on covering as much ground as possible to a focus on increasing the frequency of buses on its busiest routes. Serving areas with the most population density and having buses in those areas as frequently as possible are the new focus.

That transition means ORT buses aren’t in the region’s small cities as much, and the buses are coming around more in the largest cities. That transition has occurred in Fayetteville (and it’s credited with an increase in riders in the fourth quarter of last year), and it will soon make adjustments to routes in Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale.

The changes led to a 4 percent decrease in the bus system’s number of riders on its fixed routes to 226,000, but it enabled the bus system to reduce fuel consumption and service hours by more than 16 percent. It’s become more efficient overall.

Children’s museum: Attendance at the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville was up 2 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, said Paul Stolt, the museum’s marketing manager.

The museum has drawn a little more than 930,000 visitors since its opening in July 2015. Arkansas residents account for 53 percent of the attendees, but the museum draws substantial traffic from Missouri and Oklahoma, too.

 Pictured at the top: The massive pipes at the Beaver Water District site east of Lowell delivered more than 20 billion gallons of water to customers in Fiscal Year 2018.