More than 230 business and community leaders attended the 2019 State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report luncheon.
Greg Pogue, deputy executive director and senior research scientist of the IC² Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, gave a presentation regarding entrepreneurship in the region and recommended steps to diversify and strengthen Northwest Arkansas’ economy. He encouraged leaders to increase regional collaboration to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Funded by the Walton Family Foundation, Pogue initiated his research in the spring 2018 and his conclusions included recommendations that Northwest Arkansas leaders:
Expand funding and “oxygen” for startups and small businesses;
Promote the University of Arkansas as the region’s entrepreneurial hub;
Create strategies to respond to current and future workforce needs; and
Focus on entrepreneurial and support activities to grow and promote an innovation-minded culture.
The theme of the report was “Innovate Again, Innovate Here.” Pogue suggested the region return to its entrepreneurial roots. Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services were all established in the region and are now among the largest companies in the world.
Pogue suggested the region had iconic, world-changing entrepreneurs in retail, logistics and food, but an ecosystem to support future entrepreneurs hasn’t evolved naturally. Pogue said the region’s innovative legacy must be re-established, nurtured and strengthened.
The region has made notable progress, including the University of Arkansas collaborating with Northwest Arkansas employers and deciding to create a data science degree. He also mentioned innovation activities of Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt, Walmart’s decision to build a new headquarters in Bentonville, and the region’s recent engagement with Plug and Play Tech Center, an innovation platform that’s now connecting Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt with some of the world’s leading startups. Click here for the full report.
University of Arkansas economist Mervin Jebaraj gave an overview of Northwest Arkansas’ economic performance. He compared its performance against peer regions such as Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Provo-Orem, Utah. Those peers have fast-growing, strong economies.
Jebaraj said Northwest Arkansas is comparable to its peers in categories such as unemployment rate and the growth rate of its economy. It outperforms its peers by having lower housing costs and short commute times.
Yet, it lags peers in the areas of university research and development expenditures, educational attainment and household income.