Council Raises Over $12 Million for COVID-19 Response
by Nelson Peacock
Communities across the country continue to feel the impact of the global pandemic, and Northwest Arkansas is no exception. The region witnessed a disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Hispanic and Marshallese communities. Small businesses and nonprofits are experiencing increased hardships, and some were forced to lay off employees or permanently close their doors.
Over its 30-year history, the Northwest Arkansas Council has convened the community to help find solutions to tough problems – from infrastructure projects like I-49 and the region’s national airport to ensuring access to clean drinking water.
We felt it was important to play a similar role during this challenging year by bringing together community members to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Since March, the Council raised and helped distribute over $12 million to support health care organizations, small businesses, nonprofits, artists, hospitality workers and hard-hit communities in the region.
Through unique collaboration with health care providers, government, educators, businesses, nonprofits and philanthropic partners, the Council worked to develop and distribute resources to organizations and individuals hardest hit by the pandemic.
Over the last eight months, we conducted efforts that:
Provide support for health care organizations, frontline workers and COVID-19 patients; including donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) to local hospitals; awareness campaigns; and testing, care coordination and contact tracing in Latinx and Marshallese communities.
Assisted more than 680 small businesses secure nearly $20 million in capital funding from state and federal assistance programs.
Support creatives and the arts through bridge funds to 23 organizations and OZCast, which commissioned work from more than 100 artists and creatives.
Like many others, we’ve had to adapt. We are acting with the urgency needed to address the most pressing problems in our community while staying focused on Northwest Arkansas’ path to recovery.
While a broad coalition of community organizations are developing plans to address everything from rapid antigen tests to therapeutic plasma for seriously ill patients, our organization is doubling down on efforts to strengthen the vibrant economy that defines the region.
Over the last two years, the Northwest Arkansas Council has been working on a robust number of initiatives that address key workforce issues the region must solve to continue to grow. This year, that work has expanded to include additional programs that focus on the region’s economic recovery, as outlined by a recent report from Heartland Forward.
Companies throughout the region were already facing the challenges of filling 10,000 job openings. That number, combined with setbacks from COVID-19, requires approaches with both short- and long-term goals. To set the region on the road to recovery and long-term economic prosperity, we are:
Launching programs that incentivize remote workers to move to Northwest Arkansas.
In the last 30 days, the Council launched a new IT apprenticeship for people in the region. We brought in national partners like Kenzie Academy to provide IT training for locals. And we also launched a new campaign to attract talent that is capturing national attention for the region and helping create a long-term talent pipeline. Combined with the efforts to train our local workforce, this campaign will ensure Northwest Arkansas is ready to come out of this pandemic stronger than before.
While there are many unknowns and variables we can’t control, we must acknowledge a sobering reality – the world, and more importantly for our organization, workforce dynamics, have changed. Recognizing that evolution will ensure we lead on innovative solutions.
Northwest Arkansas’ reputation as a community that offers incredible professional opportunity and unique quality of life experiences is a growing force. But the region’s ability to work together across sectors and municipalities for a greater good continues to be its defining signature. We are humbled to once again have the opportunity to convene more than 200 corporate, community, governmental and philanthropic partners to find solutions that ensure everyone in Northwest Arkansas has a path to recovery.
Funding for comprehensive health care and economic recovery efforts came from Council members, philanthropic partners and the federal CARES Act relief fund.