Northwest Arkansas for the third year in a row has ranked in the Milken Institute’s top 10 Best-Performing Cities, coming in at No. 7 in a report published today.
That’s up from No. 9 last year and one spot ahead of Dallas, buoyed by exceptionally strong job growth and high-tech GDP growth among the country’s largest cities. Austin was ranked first, knocking Provo-Orem, Utah, from the top spot for the first time in four years.
“In recent years, strong job and population growth, in large part driven by Fayetteville’s transportation industries, has Northwest Arkansas hoping to become the next Silicon Valley of transportation,” the California-based nonprofit wrote. “With Walmart beginning construction on a new headquarters in Bentonville and the region seeing record-high venture capital investments, the future looks bright.”
The annual report’s ranking system accounts for three primary measures: labor market, in terms of wage and job growth; access to economic opportunities such as affordable housing and community resilience; and high-tech impact, meaning the digital sector’s footprint in the local economy.
One high point for the region was its commercial vacancy rate, which is at a record low in NWA and a fraction of the vacancy rate in Austin, Dallas and Houston. As in 2023, the latest report found that NWA lagged on the high-tech side, with most of its tech activity concentrated in just a handful of industries.
“If Northwest Arkansas hopes to continue to compete with the major cities in its region for investment, its ability to develop a more robust high-tech sector will be key,” the report stated.
The Milken Institute isn’t the first to highlight tech’s importance in NWA, and as a result the Northwest Arkansas Council and many of its partners have made the pursuit of tech workers and companies a top priority.
Among other efforts, the Council’s workforce development initiative has helped create hundreds of tech apprenticeships; its “Life Works Here” outreach program has sought to attract laid-off tech workers across the U.S. to the region; and its entrepreneurship initiative this month is hosting venture capital firms focused on finance, health care and other technology.
“Northwest Arkansas is coming together to ensure that its communities and employers can thrive for years to come, sustaining its incredible growth while maintaining its high quality of life,” said Nelson Peacock, the Council’s president and CEO. “This report and others like it show that we must focus unrelentingly on seizing the economic opportunities that a competitive and high-tech future will bring.”