Northwest Arkansas ranks no. 21 for the most dynamic American metros

Data: Heartland Forward’s Hottest Subways Report; Map: Baidi Wang/Axios

The most economically vibrant metros have diverse industries, a mix of young and old businesses, and fun things to do, a report released today by Heartland Striker shows.

What is happening: The Bentonville organization has ranked America’s fastest growing metros of 2021 by tracking fluctuations in local economies and each region’s potential economic future.

  • Northwest Arkansas is ranked No. 21 out of 382 metros, unchanged from its 2020 ranking.

The big picture: The report offered three takeaways for economic developers looking to improve the economy in their communities:

  • Jobs should be spread across various industries to avoid boom and bust cycles.
  • A collection of young and well-established companies, universities or government agencies creates a golden combination of stability and innovation.
  • Amenities that ensure the quality of the place — accessibility to the outdoors, museums or good schools — are important for attracting talent.

The context: Heartland strikera Bentonville think tank focused on improving the economic performance of a 20-state region in the middle of the United States, publishes the report each year.

  • This year’s report includes a perspective on the first full year of the pandemic.

What did they do: The researchers looked at wage, employment and GDP growth, as well as the average income of each metro.

  • They also included the share of employment in companies five years old or less and the share of employees in companies with a bachelor’s degree or more.

Entrepreneurial metrics point to a metro’s growth potential, Heartland Forward CEO and President Ross DeVol told Axios.

Enlarge: Factors contributing to the NWA’s ranking include its 6% job growth from June 2020 to June 2021 and the fact that its per capita income was over $75,000.

  • Stable employers like Walmart, Tyson Foods, and JB Hunt, combined with the region’s number of startups and a high rate of college-educated workers at those startups, were also a factor.

What they found: Northwest Arkansas (#21) and Metro Austin (#7) are the only two “heart” states ranked in the top 25.

  • Oil and gas or power-dependent communities — such as Odessa, Texas and Greely, Colorado — have dropped in the rankings due to lower fuel demand during the pandemic.
  • Tech hubs — like Austin and Columbus, Ohio — continue to attract more talent, startups, and investment.
  • Metros dependent on foreign tourism and business travel, such as Miami and Orlando, Florida, have suffered.
  • The Villages, in Florida, has benefited from the urban exodus as retirees have settled there.
  • Regions that have large universities and long-term stable employers have done well, including NWA and three metros in North Carolina.

“The pandemic has reminded us all that life is about more than working, eating, watching TV and scrolling through social media; we yearn to explore the natural world and develop new relationships. Cultural and recreational facilities offer such opportunities in our own backyard, and the most successful subways in the age of the pandemic have an abundance of these amenities.”

Fastest Growing Metros 2021 by Heartland Forward

To note : The Heartland Forward report uses much of the same methodology as the Milken Institute’s Top Performing Cities report, but also assesses the role that entrepreneurship plays in each metro.

Go further: Read it full report and all metro rankings. See a interactive version from the menu.

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