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Everything Old is New Again

2 min read

Many people may not know that the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce was originally created to recruit higher education institutions to Conway. In the late 1800s, Conway’s first intentional economic development was to recruit colleges in hopes of helping local merchants. Their first success was recruiting Hendrix in 1890. Central College, now Central Baptist College, in 1893 and Arkansas State Normal School, now the University of Central Arkansas, in 1907 soon followed.

In 1959, Conway business leaders formed the Conway Development Corporation to “attract jobs, retain businesses and generate economic development in Conway and Faulkner County.” Their first success was the creation of the Conway Industrial Park next to the newly built Interstate 40. That park was quickly filled and is more vibrant than ever.

It’s only fitting that this year’s Outlook Conway event highlights those two historical pillars of the Conway economy — higher education and manufacturing. Both still contribute greatly to our region’s growth and dynamism.

However, just because those industries are generations old does not mean they are in any way unchanging. Higher education is confronting almost existential change as the country’s demographics change. Also changing are expectations about the costs and benefits of a degree. Conway is fortunate to have higher learning institutions taking on these challenges in unique and ambitious ways.

The manufacturing industry is also in the midst of continuous change. Global trade, supply chain and competing for and developing a skilled workforce are just a few of the flash points confronting manufacturing leaders. However, despite these challenges, our manufacturers continue to innovate and grow.

Finally, if historic economic pillars are one theme this year, disruption is the second. And no industry has seen more volatility than insurance. Homeowners, drivers and especially business owners have seen premium increases far outpace inflation. In some cases, coverages are dramatically changing. And in other parts of the country, there are even so-called insurance deserts where all carriers have left the market. The contributing factors are many, and the solutions are few. But it is a real issue that is here to stay.

Despite these shifting sands, our community is blessed to be on stable ground. In March, the Census Bureau recognized Faulkner County as the third fastest-growing county in the state (#1 Benton, #2 Washington). In February, the city of Conway officially became central Arkansas’ most bike-friendly city, earning a silver designation from the League of American Cyclists. And finally, Conway showed that economic growth and quality of place don’t have to come at an unbearable cost. Kiplinger’s Financial recently named Conway as one of the most affordable cities in the country.

We invite you to engage with Outlook Conway to learn more about this dynamic community we call home. It’s a place where business leaders are committed to confronting modern challenges with an ambition and optimism that has existed here for generations.

— Brad Lacy
Conway Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO

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