Northwest Arkansas has a pretty awesome highlight reel in 2019 to wrap up the decade.
Health care, arts, entrepreneurship and workforce development initiatives, infrastructure improvements and recognition as one of the nation’s best places to live are among the highlights.
The Northwest Arkansas Council compiles an annual year-end summary focused on the year’s best happenings. Only 10 are included, although there were many more regional successes in 2019.
Here are some of the Council’s favorite stories of the year in no particular order.
HEALTH CARE transformation
Northwest Arkansas Health Care: Assessment, Economic Impact and Vision for the Future was released in January 2019, focusing on Northwest Arkansas’ health care sector, a $2.7 billion portion of the region’s economy.
Researchers determined that collaboration to advance the health care sector could transition Northwest Arkansas into a “health care destination,” add thousands of jobs over 20 years and increase the number of cardiologists, neurologists and other specialists who live and work in the region.
The report outlined four recommendations for how the region can attract and retain health care professionals and patients: establish a division of the council focused on health care transformation; expand graduate medical education; develop an interdisciplinary research institute; and develop a medical school.
The Council announced a partnership with Washington Regional Medical Center, Mercy Hospital Northwest, University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest, Arkansas Children’s Northwest and Northwest Health to work together to accomplish the goals.
Under an MOU, the organizations agreed to establish a health care transformation division of the Council and to hire a full-time executive director by Jan. 1, 2020 to lead the division.
Plug and Play launched its supply chain and logistics accelerator program in Northwest Arkansas this summer. The effort, supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and founding corporate partners J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart, is coordinated locally by the Northwest Arkansas Council.
The program brings innovative startups from around the world to Northwest Arkansas that are matched with mentors to refine their business models. Participants work closely with the founding partner companies to identify collaboration opportunities. At the conclusion of each program, startups will be able to showcase ideas to prospective customers and investors, including strategic partners from the Plug and Play’s global network. The accelerator focuses on supply chain optimization, blockchain, last-mile delivery, warehouse automation, IoT sensors, predictive analytics, machine learning, and more.
Endeavor, a global organization that supports and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs through connecting them with talent, capital, and a worldwide peer and mentor network, launched a new office in Northwest Arkansas, to aid growth and economic development in the region.
With a $2 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation, Endeavor Northwest Arkansas (NWA) is working to leverage the strong engagement and backing from local business leaders to support the founders and companies in the region that have passed through the initial start-up phase and who demonstrate the potential for rapid expansion and scale.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation and community leaders celebrated the start of construction on sections of the Bella Vista Bypass at a site near the Arkansas-Missouri state line in October. In Arkansas, the four-lane divided highway will be designated as a new 19-mile section of I-49. The improvements in Missouri will finish a five-mile section of the highway as well. These projects are scheduled to be completed in 2022.
The Bella Vista Bypass is one of three big-ticket highway projects made possible by the passage of a half-cent sales tax in 2012. In addition to the bypass, the sales tax provided support for Northwest Arkansas projects that included widening large sections of I-49 to six lanes between Bentonville and Fayetteville, and building a four-lane divided section of Arkansas 612 toward Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
State leaders also this year launched an initiative to continue the half-cent sales tax to provide more than $205 million a year in funding to maintain, improve, and construct highways statewide. If voters approve the November 2020 sales tax extension, the Arkansas Department of Transportation would pay for additional sections of the U.S. 412 Bypass of Springdale and a better highway toward the airport. The sales-tax extension is also important to cities and counties statewide as they share about $86 million annually that comes from the sales tax.
The Northwest Arkansas Council and the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences partnered in 2019 to create an apprenticeship program that offered 200 apprenticeships and includes classroom education and on-the-job training for a minimum of one year. The program targets high school and university students who graduate in the spring and adults who are making career changes to work in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics. The apprenticeship program kicks off with a six-week training phase developed in collaboration with each apprentice’s employer. The University of Arkansas Global Campus is involved in the training.
The first apprenticeship training cohorts are in Java/web development and cybersecurity. The program is considering adding other cohorts in AI and robotics coding.
The Council launched CareersNWA this year to highlight its commitment to this effort.
WALMART HOME OFFICE – FIRST LOOK
Walmart shared a first look of the company’s planned home office in Bentonville that’s scheduled to open in phases between 2020 and 2024.
Videos shared by the company provide samplings of how the buildings on the 350-acre site east of Bentonville’s downtown area will connect with the rest of the community. There will be lakes, paved bike trails, pedestrian paths and tall trees throughout the campus. The company plans to give full attention to environmental sustainability.
The home office should be the biggest construction project in Northwest Arkansas history.
NEW MERCY CLINIC AND HOSPITAL TOWER
It was a big year for Mercy Health System with two major investments opening in 2019 — the clinic in Springdale and patient tower and health services expansion at its Rogers hospital.
Its $47 million multi-specialty clinic in north Springdale opened in September. The 63,000-square-foot clinic has more than 60 exam rooms for primary care and special care as well as a 24-hour emergency department equipped with a helipad. Specialty care is available in cardiology, pulmonology, urology, ears, nose throat, sports and bariatrics, rheumatology and endocrinology.
Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas unveiled its seven-story patient tower and health services expansion in November. The 190,000-square-foot expansion cost $147 million and created 150 additional patient beds, as well as more cardiac and general operating rooms. The project included doubling the size of the hospital’s neonatal unit to 19 beds with a 24/7 Intensive Care Unit for premature babies.
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS $2.2 Billion
The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville contributed $2.2 billion to the state’s economy in 2018 and has more than tripled its benefit to Arkansas over almost the past decade, according to a report released in 2019 by prepared by the UofA Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
The university feeds Arkansas’ economy through operations, construction, development and transfer of new technology to the marketplace, alumni employment as well as through student and visitor commerce. And as the university has grown over the years, so has its support for the state.
XNA’S RECORD-BREAKING YEAR
The recently renamed Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) had a year for the record books. XNA announced new airlines and destinations, added gates and expanded the TSA checkpoint and achieved record-breaking passenger enplanements month after month. The team at XNA must be feeling proud of what was accomplished in 2019.
Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines started service out of XNA in June with direct service to Denver. American Airlines added nonstop flights to Miami and Philadelphia, and Allegiant Air started service to Phoenix-Mesa. XNA now offers about 40 flights a day to 19 destinations.
XNA’s enplanements through November were 16.2% higher than 2018. The 844,849 passengers exceed the number of people who boarded flights in all of 2018 (788,261). The growth puts the airport on pace for 916,000 passengers by year’s end.
TheatreSquared opened its professional theatre in August with an adaptation of the Academy Award-winning film, Shakespeare in Love. The 50,000-square-foot theatre center features two state-of-the-art performance spaces, rehearsal room, offices, education and community space, design workshops and a cafe and bar. A building to the south has eight guest-artist apartments. Outdoor areas include a patio on Spring Street, a second-level terrace on West Avenue and a rooftop deck.
Plans started in 2015 when the Walton Family Foundation chose the theater as one of the first participants in its Design Excellence Program. Designers Marvel Architects and Charcoalblue had the vision for the community’s theater and Baldwin & Shell served as contractor.
TheatreSquared is Northwest Arkansas’ professional regional theatre, offering an intimate live theatre experience for 45,000 patrons each year in its world-class space and in schools throughout the state.
The nation’s leading publications, economists and university researchers continue to recognize Northwest Arkansas as one of the nation’s most successful regions.
Among noteworthy lauds in 2019 include Northwest Arkansas rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Heartland Forward and the Milken Institute.
PlacesForBikes put four Northwest Arkansas cities among its Top 25 city ratings among U.S. cities. The list included Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale and Bella Vista.
Bentonville was dubbed one of the coolest towns in America by Madator Network. Both Bentonville and Springdale received notable nods from Money, and Fayetteville was recognized among the nation’s best places to live by Livability.
Because there are so many great things going on in our region, we just couldn’t limit our list to 10. Below are a few honorable mentions of projects and events announced in 2019.
CYCLOCROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Fayetteville announced it will host the cyclocross world championships in 2022. It’s just the second time in history that the championships will be in the U.S.
FRESHGRASS MUSIC FESTIVAL
FreshGrass, the highly anticipated festival of cutting-edge bluegrass and roots music, is making its Arkansas debut at the Momentary in April 2020, featuring Alison Krauss, Old Crow Medicine Show, Steep Canyon Rangers, Sarah Jarosz, Alison Brown, Ruthie Foster, Flor de Toloache, Leyla McCalla, and Smokey and the Mirror.
Heartland Forward launched as a “think and do” tank focused on advancing economic performance in the center of the United States. Heartland Forward will develop original policy research, convene leading voices — including through its flagship event the Heartland Summit — and advocate for policy solutions to increase economic growth across the Heartland region, which has faced a more uneven economic recovery than the coasts. Heartland Forward is led by Ross DeVol who previously worked as a fellow with the Walton Family Foundation.
PARKS AND RECREATION
The Walton Family Foundation unveiled plans for Osage Park – an adventure-based outdoor destination in Bentonville that will engage and excite visitors of all ages, interests and abilities.
Walmart donated 75 acres west of the intersection of Southwest 8th and Southwest I streets in Bentonville which is expected to be developed into a park.
REGIONAL ARTS ORGANIZATION
A Northwest Arkansas arts service organization launched this year to expand access to arts, culture and heritage. The organization is incubated at the Northwest Arkansas Council with support from the Walton Family Foundation.
Cheers to 2019! We can’t wait to tackle the next decade.