Conway Takes Stock of Success, Role in Region

CONWAY — City officials and economic development leaders touted Conway's individuality while celebrating its role as part of a larger metropolitan region Thursday. 

At the annual Outlook Conway panel discussion held at the Centennial Valley Events Center, participants took a view of the city through the prisms of leadership priorities, competitive site selection, office economy and data metrics.

The overarching message was that Conway is both a pillar and beneficiary of the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

"We are fiercely independent and loyal to Conway, but to assume that being part of a greater metro area is not important is not very smart," said Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation. 

Lacy concluded the day's panel discussions with a breakdown of numbers and data showing that the central Arkansas MSA in most cases outshines all others in the state, including the rapidly growing northwest Arkansas metro that includes Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale. 

In categories ranging from number of bachelor's degrees to population to median household income to employment, finance and job growth, Lacy painted a picture of an MSA that either outperforms, outranks or is competitive with the northwest and similar-sized metros around the nation.

Conway can't take all the credit for the central Arkansas region's 11 major employment sectors, compared to seven in northwest Arkansas. But Lacy noted that, with a population of more than 65,000, Conway contributes in the areas of education and health services, business and professional services, financial activities and manufacturing.

"The reality is this continues to be the largest economy in Arkansas," Lacy said of the central Arkansas MSA, which is projected to see $10.8 billion in retail sales this year. 

Lacy noted that if a company was looking for a city of more than 50,000 in which to relocate, Conway would be out. But as part of an MSA, Conway can tout attractions and amenities in North Little Rock and Little Rock when trying to attract people and business to the community.

Mayors Look Ahead

Mayors Frank Scott Jr. (Little Rock), Joe Smith (North Little Rock) and Bart Castleberry (Conway) opened the day discussing their priorities for the near future, indulging in some friendly competitiveness and agreeing that what's good for one community is good for all.

Whether it's bike trails, an airport or an Apple store, each city, as part of an MSA, can tell outsiders who inquire, "We got it."

Castleberry concluded the panel by announcing Conway's new wayfinding signage system, a product of the Conway 125 capital campaign, which will feature informative, cohesive and aesthetic signage directing people to the city's key locations, features and attractions. 

In the site selection panel, John Lenio, executive vice president and economist at Arizona-based real estate services company CBRE, praised the intra-community cohesion and partnership.

"I think [it] is a No. 1 asset of central Arkansas," he said.

Lenio was joined in the discussion by Alan Reeves, director of Newmark Knight Frank, who urged area residents to always be on the lookout for chances to promote the region and Conway when traveling. You never know what business or industry leader might hear the good word and take an interest, he said.

The office economy panel included Drew May, chief customs officer at Acxiom Corp.; Carl Harris, head of ITO service delivery at DXC; Bill Flannery, executive vice president of global operations at Ensono; and David Mayer, vice president and general manager at Insight Enterprises.

As representatives of the technology industry, the panelists praised the intelligence level of Conway's workforce, fed by graduates from three colleges as well as veteran employees with a wealth of experience and knowledge. The tech world moves and advances quickly, Harris said, and a nimble, competent workforce helps a company to keep up. 

"Once you meet a Conway employee there's something special about them," he said.