Arkansas cities that feared economic repercussions from a proposed statistical change need worry no longer; that plan has been abandoned by the federal Office of Management & Budget at the urging of 75 legislators.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas) announced the news Wednesday. He and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) opposed the proposal and submitted a bipartisan letter against it to OMB Acting Director Rob Fairweather.
The letter, signed by 25 senators, including U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), asked Fairweather not to change the current definition of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), a population statistic many government agencies use as part of their funding criteria.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Arkansas, also submitted a letter opposing the change. It was signed by 50 representatives.
The OMB had received a recommendation from a study committee to double the core population required for designation as a metropolitan statistical area from 50,000 to 100,000. While an existing MSA may have had a population of more than 100,000, if its core did not, that area would've lost its MSA status.
Arkansas Business reported in April that such a change would have downgraded the statuses of Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Texarkana. A total of 144 communities in 45 states and 392 MSAs nationwide would've also been downgraded to micropolitan statistical status.
"This is great news for the four metropolitan areas in Arkansas that this would have impacted," Mark Young, CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, told Arkansas Business on Wednesday.
"We very much appreciate our legislative delegation and all their work on this particular effort; 144 communities across the country could have potentially been impacted by the proposed change that would have impacted things like funding to those communities, and had an adverse impact on all of our committees, so we're excited to see the news. And, again, so very thankful and grateful that our legislative delegation did all that they did to support our efforts to make sure this change did not go through," Young said.
Allison Thompson, president and CEO at the Economic Development Alliance and Chamber for Jefferson County, said, "We were one of the voices saying we didn't want it changed, and we're very pleased at the support we got from Rep. Westerman and Sen. Boozman and everybody else.
"It was not going to be good for us, as well as other chamber execs and economic developers within our state and around the nation. Actually, we all pulled together. It would've negatively affected our folks involved in transportation planning as well. So it was just it was just a bad deal."
She added, "So we're doing our happy dance, and emails are flying, saying 'yay' and all that. We're very pleased."
Westerman said in a statement released late Wednesday, "I commend OMB’s decision to honor my request to reverse course on the harmful rule change that would have stymied the continued development of 144 communities in 45 states and Puerto Rico.
"I am sincerely grateful for the ability to lead a bipartisan letter signed by Rep. Rick Crawford and 50 of my colleagues to OMB Acting Director Rob Fairweather voicing the concerns of members and see a favorable result."
The recommendation was publicized in January just before President Joe Biden's inauguration and a public comment period ended in mid-March.
The letter from legislators, dated March 19, reads: "Though the consideration of nonstatistical uses is not the priority of OMB, ignoring the unwritten effects that MSAs have on the decision-making process of our government would cause major disruptions with grant and entitlement programs, medical reimbursements, economic development, housing initiatives, and more.
"The MSA metric has become a critical tool so broadly used that changing it without considering its far-reaching impacts is short-sighted."