The next Austin? How about Arkansas. Seriously.

Ambitious young university graduates are looking for an affordable home base where they can build their families and careers. Here’s a place that might not (yet) be on their list: Arkansas.

Over the past decade, coastal metros like New York and San Francisco have dominated the upward mobility landscape, but the main story has become how to cope with the high cost of living in these cities. One solution was to move to lower-cost neighborhoods, which further drove up rents and house prices. Others moved to lower-cost subways that shared some of the characteristics of these high-cost places; Austin, Texas has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of this trend.

Thanks to the cumulative impact of all that migration—accelerated by lifestyle changes during the pandemic—Austin is no longer affordable and arguably too expensive for what it offers. This begs the question: Where should someone who has been kicked out of Austin look? I would say the best candidate to be the next Austin is the up and coming region known as Northwest Arkansas.

It’s not just about throwing a dart at the map and arbitrarily calling something the next Austin. Northwest Arkansas has both idiosyncratic and macroeconomic factors that make it a logical heir to the role Austin has played for so long.

First, we need to define what we’re talking about. Northwest Arkansas includes 4 of the state’s 10 largest cities: Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas; Bentonville, headquarters of Walmart Inc.; and Springdale and Rogers. The two largest counties in the region are Benton and Washington, which make up only 17.6% of the state’s population, but accounted for more than 100% of the state’s net population growth in the 2010s. is not a misprint – Arkansas grew by 95,600 people during the decade thanks to the 105,800 residents added by Benton and Washington County. Of the 110 U.S. metropolitan areas with a population of over 500,000, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area was the fifth fastest growing area during this period.

The metro area, anchored by the state’s flagship public university and America’s largest business by revenue, is growing as rapidly as recent urban behemoths such as Boise, Idaho, Raleigh, North Carolina and Orlando, Florida.

Northwest Arkansas is also benefiting from continued growth in Texas in the same way Austin has benefited from the growing economy in California. There is intense competition from universities in neighboring states to raise their profile and fill seats by recruiting students from Texas, and more than 25% of the University of Arkansas student body is from Texas. Fayetteville is an 8-hour drive from Austin and a 5.5-hour drive from Dallas, so to the extent that Texas metros become too crowded or too expensive for locals, northwest Arkansas already has a Lone Star expat diaspora that should make it a sensitive place to consider while staying less than a day’s drive from ‘home’.

If you ask, “What’s there to do in Northwest Arkansas?” you should know that the area is being transformed by the wealth of the Waltons, the founding family of Walmart. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened its doors a decade ago, funded by more than $1 billion from Walmart heiress Alice Walton, and has become one of the top museums in the country. This is where the copy of the US Constitution won at auction by Citadel founder Kenneth Griffin will be on loan to the public.

Walmart, recognizing the need to recruit more young talent to Arkansas, is transforming downtown Bentonville into a walkable campus filled with amenities. The Razorback Regional Greenway — also funded in part by money from the Walton family — is a 2015 dedicated 37-mile hiking and biking trail that connects many community attractions.

The underlying factor in all of this is that many second-tier metro areas have become much more expensive over the past couple of years and are no longer the bargains they used to be. New locations will gain popularity as metros like Austin and Boise grapple with their own accessibility issues. At the same time, continued growth in Texas will slowly but surely create its own contagion momentum to other metro areas, just as growth on the West Coast spread to Austin.

Northwest Arkansas may not be on many coastal people’s radar. but it is the candidate most likely to be the main beneficiary of these trends.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Conor Sen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and the founder of Peachtree Creek Investments. He has contributed to the Atlantic and Business Insider and resides in Atlanta.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

Comments are closed.