Census: NW Arkansas Grew 21% in 9 Years; Ranked 13th in U.S.

Just five larger metropolitan areas in the U.S. grew faster than Northwest Arkansas over a nine-year period, new U.S. Census Bureau population estimates show.

The region’s 21.5% growth rate since 2010 exceeded just about all of the nation’s 383 other metropolitan statistical areas. The growth rate of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA (Northwest Arkansas) ranked No. 13 overall.

The larger MSAs with higher growth rates were Austin, Texas (29.8%); Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. (24.5%); Raleigh-Cary, N.C. (23%); Provo-Orem, Utah (23%); and Orlando, Fla. (22.2%).

The new information shared by the census included estimated populations on July 1, 2019.

An estimated 534,904 people lived in Northwest Arkansas on July 1, and it’s the first time the census estimates for the MSA did not include McDonald County, Mo. The federal government removed the Missouri county from the MSA in late 2018. 

Losing the more than 23,000 McDonald County residents resulted in the region falling in the rankings to No. 107, the population estimates show. If McDonald County had been included, the region would have been No. 101.

A Northwest Arkansas Council analysis, using the population data shared by the census and then assuming the same growth rate from 2010 to 2019 continues, shows the region has already moved past other MSAs. The analysis shows the region is now larger than No. 106 Youngstown, Ohio and No. 105 Portland, Maine. It passed the MSAs late last year.

Later this year, Northwest Arkansas will pass No. 104 Lancaster, Pa. and then three more MSAs in 2021, the analysis showed.

If the growth of Northwest Arkansas continues as it did between 2010 and 2019, the region would be a Top 100 MSA by mid-2024, passing Chattanooga, Tenn. At that point, Northwest Arkansas will have about 585,000 residents.

Becoming a Top 100 MSA is significant as many expanding companies, researchers and national magazines only evaluate the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Those evaluations should draw more attention to Northwest Arkansas and its attributes.

Other statistics gleaned from the Census population estimates:

  • Northwest Arkansas in the most recent year (July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019) added 26.5 people a day to its population. That was more than some larger metropolitan areas, including Cincinnati, San Diego, San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale.

  • Arkansas Economic Development Institute estimates last year predicted 545,893 residents in Benton County by 2045. If that plays out as expected, Benton County will have more residents than the three-county MSA did on July 1, 2019.

  • Nearby MSAs didn’t grow nearly as fast as Northwest Arkansas in the most recent year. Tulsa added 15 people a day; Springfield, Mo., welcomed 11; Little Rock added 6.3; and Fort Smith added 0.2 a day.

Pictured at the top: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in 2011 in Bentonville, has some scenic outdoor areas that include creeks, walking trails and mountain bike paths. The blue objects were originally part of the museum’s Chihuly exhibit in 2017.