'Crisis of Success' Spurs New NWA Council Strategy

'Crisis of Success' Spurs New NWA Council Strategy

The Northwest Arkansas Council has a new five-year strategy plan for the still growing and robust region.

The nonprofit organization, made up of business, community and academic leaders, held its annual meeting Thursday at the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Ozark Highlands Nature Center in Springdale. The strategy was prepared by researcher Richard Florida of the Creative Class Group to help the council shepherd northwest Arkansas through the complications of success.

Other booming areas have had a “crisis of success,” Florida said, and northwest Arkansas is entering those waters. The region, centered around Washington and Benton counties, ranked in the top five nationally in population growth (4th), job growth (3rd) and pay growth (2nd), the council said.

With that success comes growing pains, specifically housing prices, which have increased significantly as the area’s popularity soared. Benton County’s home prices have increased 43% the past five years, while Washington County’s prices have jumped 47%.

The high prices are no big deal to white-collar workers moving in from other affluent areas of the country, but they are debilitating for rank-and-file workers. It threatens the region’s quality of life, Florida said.

“With success comes real challenges,” Florida said. “I can’t underestimate this.”

Years ago, Florida said he visited northwest Arkansas to give a presentation. He said he was impressed by the growth since then.

“It’s more stunning than the growth of my children,” Florida joked. “I can’t believe what has happened here.”

Florida said the area needs to “double down” on some of the investments, such as entrepreneurship and academic research. The report based on his research and recommendations — called the Northwest Arkansas Regional Strategy 2022-2026 — has five points of focus to help the region now that it has reached what the council called “an inflection point.”

More: Read the full five-year strategy plan here.

The points, or goals, include talent retention, continuing to make improvements in innovation and entrepreneurship, making housing more affordable and continuing to make strides in quality of life amenities such as the arts.

“I’m not talking about not growing,” Florida said. “This is not [saying], ‘stop growing.’ This is how to grow smarter, better and more inclusively. You’ve done some incredible stuff here.”

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