Many of the people moving to Northwest Arkansas are going to need jobs.
Mike Harvey with the Northwest Arkansas Council said the new jobs may come from companies branching out. Companies such as Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt and Walmart have shown a willingness over the years to be out front, early adopters of cutting-edge technology in their specific industries, he said.
“I think from an economy perspective, we obviously want to support and nurture what is here, the folks that got us here, those big sectors like retail, food logistics, education and I’d add health care to that. Obviously, it’s going to be very different-looking 25 years from now,” Harvey said.
Logistics and supply-chain management may become even more important to the region, he said. Northwest Arkansas could also become a center for supply-chain technology, autonomous vehicles or air mobility, such as last-mile delivery by drones or electric vehicles.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville also influences job sectors.
“There are so many potential pockets of innovation down there from the agricultural sector, the food science, animal science, over into the areas of tech transfer and commercialization at the tech park, like electric propulsion and battery tech and medical diagnostics,” Harvey said.
Washington and Benton counties have long been strong in agriculture, usually leading the state in the value of farm products.
Wayne Miller, professor and economist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, expects fewer acres to be used for agriculture as the region and its land prices grow.
Miller said farmers are going to have to look at higher-value crops to maintain their profitability when the cost of land goes up, to get more revenue per acre and per farm.
Planning and zoning are going to be key to agriculture in Northwest Arkansas, he said. Towns will need to keep some land zoned for agriculture if they want to preserve the industry, he said.
“If there really is no zoning, the demand for that land — the value of that land for developing subdivisions — will be much higher than you can grow beef cattle on,” he said.
Poultry is the largest sector of agriculture in Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas, particularly Washington and Benton counties, produces the most poultry in the state. Production could increase if poultry houses are built close together, Miller said.
There are several large poultry processing plants in Washington County that employ more than 1,000 workers each. Simmons Foods Inc. and affiliates opened a $300 million chicken processing facility in western Benton County in October 2019. The plant is along Arkansas 59 between Decatur and Gentry on 870 acres. Simmons officials said when the plant opened that it has the potential of reaching 2,300 employees by 2022.
Other than poultry, Miller predicted that farmers will focus on more high-value crops such as vegetables and fruits.
“Canning has declined in the area in the last couple of decades, but it could come back if you’re producing more of those fruits and vegetables,” he said.