Written by Arkansas Real Estate
This week we were able to catch up with Steve Cox, Vice President of Economic Development for the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. Steve recently was named as one of the top forty business leaders under forty in Arkansas by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. We are grateful that he took time to chat with us this week about all the great things happening in our area.
Can you talk about some recent developments that have been happening in Rogers?
There have been plenty of new and great things happening throughout Rogers the past several months. Looking at Downtown Rogers, there have been 17 new businesses open since January, and two existing businesses have expanded. The historic district is over 95% occupied and there has been several groups looking at purchasing and repurposing the Peachtree building, which is the last building of size that isn’t currently occupied or being remodeled.
Out closer to 540, this year we have seen the opening of Marshall’s, Shoe Carnival, Homegood’s, Damgoode Pies, Grubb’s, The Egg and I, Bliss Cupcakes, Dickey’s BBQ, The Haley Boutique, and Mojito’s with more on the way.
Phase One of the Razorback Greenway Trail in Rogers is completed and Phase Two has begun and will be completed in the near future. The Rogers Aquatic Center is nearing the end of its first season and had more than double the attendance that was expected. The Rogers Sports Complex on Hudson Road has been used to great efficiency and there have been over a dozen baseball and softball tournaments held there already. The new Wayfinding Signage is partially completed with seven signs currently around Rogers. Another 50 signs will be in place by the end of the year.
Sales tax collections have had 30 consecutive months of growth in the year-over-year comparisons. The Hotel tax collections are the highest ever for the year. Since February, each month has been a record collection month.
We all know that Northwest Arkansas is a great place to live, but what would you say are some of the key contributing factors to that?
First I would like to say, that I agree with you completely about NWA being such a great place to live and it isn’t just those of us who live here that say that. Rogers was listed as number 67 on the “Best Places to Live” list by CNN/Money and Money Magazine. Rogers was the only city in Arkansas to be on that list. The 2012 Milken Institute ranked the NWA area as the 41st best-performing metro area in the U.S. NewGeography.com ranked NWA as the #3 Best Mid-Sized City for Jobs in 2013. The NWA area was ranked 19th by Forbes on their Best Places for Business and Careers list in 2012. CNN/Money also ranked NWA as the 13th best metro area for small business startups.
So many factors contribute to making this a great place to live and work that I don’t have the time to list them all. Our education is on par with the top areas in the nation. Every school in the Rogers School District is ranked at least 4-star, with over 20 having a 5-star ranking. We are one of the fastest growing areas in the country. NWA was the only metro area in the US to be ranked in the top-15 fastest growing areas by the US Census Bureau from 1990-2010. Our population has more than doubled since 1990 and we are set to break the 500,000 population mark in the 2nd quarter of 2014.
The quality of living is great here as well. Incomes are rising and the cost of living is low. Northwest Arkansas was ranked the 6th Most Affordable Metro Area for 2012 by the Council for Community and Economic Research. When people are able to get high-quality, good paying jobs and have an affordable place to live, it adds up to success.
Speaking of jobs, how would you describe the employment market here in Rogers and NWA as a whole?
Employment is going well here in NWA. Our unemployment rate is lower than at this time last year and still well below the state and national levels. While some argue whether we are fully out of the great recession what cannot be argued is that currently in NWA we have more people working that we did at peak employment before the recession began.
Businesses in the area are shifting out of survival mode and getting back into growth mode. Several businesses in the area have added jobs in recent months. A great example is the Tyson plant in Rogers. It now employs more than 1,100 people. Accumen Brands in Fayetteville has grown from two employees to over 100 in less than four years. Central States Manufacturing in Lowell is expanding across the nation with new plants opening each year until 2017. We have even seen local companies expand out and acquire new businesses as well.
While things are better, they are not as good as they can be. There are still people out there looking for work and I, my counterparts at the other area Chambers, and the Northwest Arkansas Council, go out there every day and work on bringing businesses to the area and helping existing businesses expand so more jobs are created and more people are working. Just in Rogers this past year we have seen over 850 new jobs created that the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce has assisted in bringing about.
There is so much on the horizon. Highway improvements are coming. Highway cone orange will be the unofficial color of NWA for the next few years as 540 will be widened to 6 lanes, all of the exits will be improved to allow easier access on and off of 540, creation of the new Eastern Bypass allowing for a new North-South route for residents, the first half of Eastern Bypass allowing for easier access to XNA being created, and creating the Bella Vista Bypass to allow for easier traffic flow from NWA into Missouri and beyond.
The AMP is relocating from Fayetteville to the Pinnacle Hills area. The new 6,000 seat amphitheater is a welcome addition to Rogers and is scheduled to be opened in June of 2014. The new children’s museum coming to Bentonville will add more amenities for visitors and residents. New restaurants like Chuy’s and Longhorn Steakhouse coming to Rogers. A new shopping center is going in at Pleasant Grove. New homes are being built and home prices are rising again.
All-in-all, things are going well in Northwest Arkansas and the good news is that we aren’t done yet. With our partnerships with the Northwest Arkansas Council and marketing the region as whole, businesses and people from around the world are taking notice. I fully expect to see another growth wave of industry and residents to happen in the next few years as we continue to be a premier place to live and work. We will show the world that NWA is great for business and great for life.