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Our region is one of the nation’s fastest-growing places and will soon be listed among the top 100 largest metropolitan areas, but what does the future hold for Northwest Arkansas? This post should give you a good idea.

Otherworldly cover photo by @hamiltonblocker of the Ozarks on Instagram

More Diverse + More Inclusive

Engage NWA Strategic Plan 2018-2022

The purpose of Engage NWA is to broaden inclusion and engagement, and to strengthen the regional economy by positioning Northwest Arkansas as a community of engaged global talent. This past year, they released a four-year strategic plan for the region that includes 100 goals and focuses on inclusion in five areas: economic development, government leadership, civic engagement, safe and connected communities, and education. Regional challenges in the strategic plan include the need to attract, grow and retain workers, a shortage of diverse representation in the region’s leadership, a gap in newcomers’ understanding of local systems and how to access services, and the need for improved cross-cultural communication and cultural awareness. Northwest Arkansas is the first place in the country to create a regionwide, inclusion-focused plan of this kind.

3-Year TRUE Northwest Arkansas Initiative

TRUE Northwest Arkansas is a three-year pilot to Train, Report, Uplift, and Engage our community toward diversity and inclusion. The Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation are providing nearly $2.5M in funding to support grants that provide project management and implementation during the pilot program’s startup phase, as well as additional training and capacity-building grants to local organizations. Most recently, ten organizations engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion work in Northwest Arkansas have been selected to participate in a shared learning experience over a two-year period and will receive technical assistance from the Arkansas Community Foundation.

TRUE Northwest Arkansas will be a community engagement resource that will provide up-to-date information on training opportunities, a report on the state of inclusion in the region, and grantee and learning resources.

Healthier + Happier

Blue Zones Assessment

Leveraging secrets discovered in “Blue Zones” around the world—rare longevity hotspots—the Blue Zones Project helps transform communities across the U.S. into areas where the healthy choice is easy and people live longer with a higher quality of life. Experts from the Blue Zones Project will arrive soon to determine how to improve the well-being of Northwest Arkansas residents as part of a regional health-focused assessment.

After the assessment, the Blue Zones Project team will produce a report that summarizes the state of well-being as well as discuss opportunities and challenges in Northwest Arkansas. A future step would include making a detailed proposal to leaders about a Blue Zones Project occurring in the region. If pursued, the projects typically last three to five years.

The original blue zones areas — discovered by National Geographic fellow and New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner — are places where residents live significantly longer, healthier, and more active lives. Found worldwide, they include locations in the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California.

A Healthcare Destination

If specialty services are added to satisfy regional demand, the region can add more than $2 billion a year to the heathcare economy by 2040 and transform Northwest Arkansas into a thriving healthcare destination. This was one of the conclusions of the Northwest Arkansas Healthcare: Assessment, Economic Impact and Vision for the Future by healthcare research firm Tripp Umbach.

The recommendations are:

  • Establish a division of the Northwest Arkansas Council focused on healthcare transformation by July 1, 2019;
  • Expand Graduate Medical Education (GME) in one to two years;
  • Develop an interdisciplinary research institute in one to five years;
  • Expand medical education and/or develop a four-year medical school in two to seven years.

“Northwest Arkansas has the leadership and community assets necessary to transform the healthcare sector, to establish the region as a healthcare destination, and for the region to become a model for population health management,” said Paul Umbach, the healthcare and economic research firm’s founder. “Taking the right steps will result in billions of dollars added to the regional economy, thousands of high-paying jobs, and better health outcomes for regional residents.”

More Tech-Savvy + More Innovative

A National Hub for Data Science

As reported by Talk Business and Politics, Walmart’s Chief Data Officer Bill Groves told an audience at a Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce event that Northwest Arkansas is ripe to become a data science hub because of the diverse group of large employers — Walmart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt, Arvest Bank, Mercy, Simmons Foods – with operations in need of digital and analytical talent to grow their businesses.

A Research Engine

One of the highest priorities in the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, a plan unveiled last year by the Northwest Arkansas Council, is to work with regional businesses, governments and the University of Arkansas to double the amount of research and development expenditures by increasing federal, state and industry-sponsored research. An imperative if Northwest Arkansas wants to remain one of the most innovative regions in the nation.

At the end of 2018, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation made a $23.7 million investment into the University of Arkansas’ research and economic development infrastructure to strengthen the university’s research engine, driving innovation across disciplines, leading to the commercialization of new technologies and ultimately enhancing economic activity in the state.

Most recently, the University of Arkansas established the Commercialization Fund, which will award $1 million a year to help support technologies that show strong potential for commercialization. As Stacy Leeds, vice chancellor for economic development, put it “This new fund is a game-changer for campus commercialization efforts. Faculty innovators and entrepreneurs will now have financial support to bring their ideas to market more efficiently, increasing the economic and social impact of university innovations.”

The University also announced three signature research areas that will distinguish the U of A from other institutions. The signature areas:

  • Harnessing the Data Revolution
  • Enriching Human Health and Community Vibrancy
  • Promoting a Resilient and Sustainable Future

Taken together, it’s clear the U of A will be a source of regional innovation for years to come.

More Creative + More Surprises

A Hub for Artistic Endeavors in America’s Heartland

Two bullet points that are guaranteed to unleash the power of art and further position Northwest Arkansas as a unique arts and cultural destination:

  • Realizing the fruits of the unprecedented $120 million gift to the University of Arkansas School of Art
  • The Momentary, a new 63,000 square-foot contemporary arts venue, slated to open in early 2020.

Film Northwest Arkansas

The filming of HBO’s True Detective Season 3 in Northwest Arkansas has put the region on the map as a desirable location for film, tv, and media production. Take Northwest Arkansas’ natural beauty, drop-in the financial incentives that state is offering filmmakers, sprinkle in the annual draw of Bentonville Film Festival, toss in two Hollywood-style film and media production studios (Rockhill Studios and Farm Studios)—and you have some of the essential ingredients needed for our region to make a mark in the film industry.

Surprise! International-Caliber CX!

If you didn’t see the announcement, you probably didn’t see this one coming. The Union Cycliste Internationale recently announced that the world cyclocross championships will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2022. Cyclocross is a form of bicycle racing. Races typically take place in the autumn and winter, and consist of many laps of a short course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount (Wikipedia).

According to the Fayetteville Flyer, it will be just the second time the United States has ever hosted the event, which was first held in 1950 in Paris, France. The announcement was made in Bogense, Denmark at the site of the 2019 world cyclocross championships.

Northwest Arkansas has successfully become a mecca for mountain biking, but with this announcement, it’s clear we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the region’s cycling-centric plans for the future. And, why should that surprise us? We also didn’t see the anticipate that we would be home to the largest pump track of its kind in the country and host the Red Bull Pump Track World Championship. And if anyone ever questions, why? Remember, a study done in partnership with non-profit organization PeopleForBikes said Northwest Arkansas’s network of trail and bike facilities provided $137 million in economic benefits in 2017.

So…what is your region up to?