The Northwest Arkansas Council celebrated 25 years of regional collaboration at its annual meeting today.
Founded in 1990, the Council played major roles in the establishment of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, the Benton/Washington Regional Public Water Authority and in helping to obtain funding for major highway and infrastructure expansions. The Council also has helped in the establishment of the regional wayfinding system and a regional economic development program, and it helped create programs to support education and people of diversity.
The Council’s greatest success is that it provided a venue for partners to collaborate on big-ticket projects and encouraged cities, counties and businesses to work together to make projects more successful.
“The Council is a model for success,” U.S. Senator John Boozman said in a statement read earlier this month into the proceedings and debates of the 114th Congress. “Economic development regions across Arkansas and throughout the country use the Council as a model, with hopes of achieving similar success. The Council has demonstrated the value of cooperation and collaboration, as well as the importance of keeping attention focused on common ground and shared interests.”
In 1990, the Council’s founding members, which included Sam Walton, Alice Walton, Don Tyson, John Tyson, John Lewis, Mark Simmons, J.B. Hunt and about 25 other business leaders, recognized Northwest Arkansas desperately needed better infrastructure if its economic development was going to continue to advance. Walmart Stores and Tyson Foods were already national success stories, but Northwest Arkansas infrastructure remained a challenge.
Business leaders hired Uvalde Lindsey to serve as the Northwest Arkansas Council’s first executive director and he stayed in that position until retiring 15 years later. Alice Walton was the organization’s first chair.
Lindsey earlier today was recognized as the Council’s newest honorary lifetime member, a distinction held by just three other people: President Bill Clinton, Alice Walton and John Paul Hammerschmidt. Hammerschmidt, a U.S. congressman for 26 years, served as the Council’s chairman for 13 years after leaving Congress.
Since the Council’s establishment, the region’s population and total number of jobs have more than doubled. Northwest Arkansas had zero interstate lane miles in 1990; there are 227 lane miles today and more are under construction.
Dramatic increases occurred in the number of Walmart suppliers with offices in Northwest Arkansas, number of college students and in the region’s minority population. In fact, the number of Latinos living in Northwest Arkansas’ largest cities is 29 times what it was in 1990.
“Northwest Arkansas never ceases to impress those of us who work to promote it, and our organization is honored to be part of so much of the good that’s happened in our region,” said Mike Malone, the president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “Regional partners have built highways, water facilities and an airport, and we’ve witnessed our businesses creating an incredible number of jobs over 25 years. Our region has accomplished so much while protecting the natural beauty of Northwest Arkansas.”
The Council at its annual meeting today also welcomed a new presiding co-chair. Jim Walton, chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank Group, replaces Rosalind Brewer, Sam’s Club president and CEO. Today starts Walton’s third term as presiding co-chair.