Mike Malone on the NWA Growth, Expansion

Mike Malone on the NWA Growth, Expansion
Mike Malone

Before joining the Northwest Arkansas Council in 2006, Mike Malone, a native of Fayetteville, served six years in the White House’s Office of Management & Administration under President Bill Clinton. Malone also held staff positions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Malone, 45, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hendrix College and earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota.

How important is improving the infrastructure to keep up with northwest Arkansas’ growth? The highway investments from the half-cent sales tax that voters approved in November 2012 are starting to ease some of the congestion, and we’ll be in better shape when all the sales tax-funded work is complete in a few years. But even with all the new highway investment, we’ll still be a long way from finished with a number of key projects of regional significance such as the U.S. 412 Bypass and the remaining lanes of the Bella Vista Bypass. In addition to highways, we need to be sure that other infrastructure capacity is in place to meet the needs of our growing population. That means we need to protect water quality and ensure that we have sufficient water for future decades. We also need to invest in public transit and trails.

The northwest Arkansas MSA recently passed 500,000 in population and was projected this past summer to have the nation’s third-best economy among the largest MSAs through 2020. How can the region continue to best maintain this growth? Our population and economy have grown at a strong rate for most of the past 25 years or so. To maintain growth, we ought to keep doing some of the things that we’ve been doing for the past 25 years, and, in some cases, we need to do them even better. Building the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is just one great example of public- and private-sector leaders coming together to build a major piece of regional infrastructure. This collaborative spirit has served us well, and I see the collaborations getting stronger as our cities grow together. If we continue to be thoughtful and deliberate about building our regional economy, quality growth will continue at a high level in the future.

Northwest Arkansas is one region but it has five distinct “big” cities. How have you found the cooperation between business and municipal leaders in the area? It’s better than ever. We’ve become good at finding ways to work together on projects of regional significance. That’s true for our local governments and so many of our nonprofit organizations and educational institutions as well. 

How does having heavyweights such as Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt and Tyson Foods in the region help to attract or create new business opportunities? At just over 500,000 residents, we’re the smallest metro area in the country that is home to three Fortune 500 companies. Because of Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt and Tyson Foods, as well as several large and midsized industries that are headquartered in northwest Arkansas, we have seven times the U.S. average of “headquarters” type positions in our workforce. We also have the 10th-highest proportion of millennials as a share of our workforce out of nearly 400 metro areas nationwide. Those stats are driven by our major employers, and when you have a well-educated, successful and relatively youthful population, other business opportunities are sure to result. 

The Northwest Arkansas Council is a nonprofit that helps promote and advance economic development in the region.