Northwest Arkansas’ trophy shelf is getting crowded with yet another report ranking the region as one of the best places to live and work.
The Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area came in at No. 9 in the Best Performing Cities 2023 report, which the nonprofit Milken Institute released this month. That compares to No. 8 last year. The Austin and Dallas metros ranked second and sixth, respectively, while Provo-Orem, Utah, took the top spot for a third year.
The ranking system accounted for three primary measures: labor market, in terms of wage and job growth; access to economic opportunities in the form of affordable housing and broadband; and high-tech impact, meaning the digital sector’s share of the local economy.
Based on 2021 data, during the rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, NWA performed well in the first two categories thanks to its flagship university, Fortune 500 companies and rapid growth, according to the report. The region fell near the bottom of the list in terms of high-tech impact, however, with a much smaller share of the region’s economy than the average large metro.
“It may prove difficult for Fayetteville to join the ranks of the regional financial hubs without more large high-tech industries in the area,” the report said.
It’s not the first time this shortcoming has been highlighted. A 2019 report from the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin urged the region to diversify its economy and retain a young workforce by cultivating innovation in data science and food technology.
“Innovation is a defining character of the region, and this legacy needs to be intentionally nurtured and grown through an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” the NWA EDGE report, funded by the Walton Family Foundation, stated.
The Northwest Arkansas Council and other organizations took the message to heart, launching new efforts to make the region a hub for advanced mobility technology, IT apprenticeships and local agriculture. Walmart has invested in drone delivery services and locally produced electric vehicles, and the NWA Technology Summit last year drew 1,700 registered attendees.
A variety of rankings have placed Northwest Arkansas near the top of the country in terms of quality of life, economic performance and other measures. Earlier this month U.S. News & World Report’s latest report on the best places to live had NWA among the top 10 for the eighth year in a row.
“We can feel proud of Northwest Arkansas’ high-ranking performance in one report after another, which demonstrates how effective regional collaboration can be towards shared goals,” said Nelson Peacock, Council president and CEO. “These reports also indicate where we concentrate our efforts to continue to stand out among a crowded and competitive field.”
Another notable finding in the Milken report was the region’s performance in housing affordability. Last year NWA ranked 94th based on a National Association of Realtors index for the ease of purchasing a house. This year’s report used the U.S. Census Bureau’s yearly estimate of percentage of household income going to housing of any kind. In that measure, NWA ranked second among the country’s larger cities.