Business Study Sees 1,000 New Jobs, $800M in Expansion in Northwest Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas companies expect nearly 1,000 new jobs and $808 million in expansion over the next three years, according to the results of a business retention and expansion survey conducted by the Northwest Arkansas Council and area chambers of commerce.

The results were gathered from one-on-one interviews with more than 459 area companies, and the council released a 27-page report (PDF) on Thursday. Interview subjects ranged from one-person businesses to international companies including Wal-Mart, and the data suggests significant job growth is on the horizon.

"This is not a scientific survey, but it can help us be informed of respective work plans and keep our finger on the pulse of what is going on in the business community," Mike Harvey, chief operating officer of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said.

Harvey, along with representatives from chambers of commerce in Bentonville/Bella Vista, Fayetteville, Rogers/Lowell, Siloam Springs and Springdale, presented the survey findings Thursday morning. In addition to data on job growth and business expansion, the surveys offered insight into areas where businesses feel comfort or concern.

Study authors arrived at the jobs and expansion figures based on anecdotal evidence from respondents. Those respondents also cited areas of regional strength and weaknesses. The survey identified business climate and quality of life as top community strengths, and areas of improvement included infrastructure and a lack of skilled labor.

Identifying how to improve concerns and how to leverage strengths will be a long-term focus of the local chambers when using the data. But in the short term, they said a significant benefit of the survey was getting into the community and establishing better relationships with local businesses.

Siloam Springs was the first local chamber to conduct a BRE survey. Benefits from those efforts helped job growth there and led to other chambers joining with the Northwest Arkansas Council for a region-wide survey.

Anecdotal evidence offered by directors suggests their efforts are already paying off. Businesses in Fayetteville’s industrial park expressed a need for better sidewalks and street lighting in the area. Those needs are being addressed. Bentonville’s chamber helped add a position at the DMV that could help a local company with work visas, rather than the business having to drive workers to Little Rock on a weekly basis.

"We let them tell us what their problem is," Siloam Springs' Wayne Mays said. "Then we found ways to help them out."

Chambers are now in phase two of their surveys for 2013. They’ll target 450 businesses again to continue mining information for the regional database.

Continuing to grow jobs in the region and expand existing businesses is the ultimate goal. Springdale chamber president Perry Webb said that of the 40,000 jobs created in the state from January 2010 to December 2012, 44 percent originated in the four-counties that make up northwest Arkansas. 

Regional cooperation should help that number grow, he said. This is the first effort of its kind for the local chambers.

"We are the driver of new job growth as we have been the past two decades," Webb said. "Nobody has ever had this kind of regional effort. The challenge we have is making sure people that matter in Little Rock [the state Legislature] understand this is an important, ongoing progress."