Mar 14, 2022 - Business

Panel reps Northwest Arkansas at SXSW

photo of panel
Worth Sparkman, Tammy Sun, Angie Cooper and Chelsea Peters in a panel discussion at South by Southwest. Photo: Kathryn Heller/Walton Family Foundation

AUSTIN — NWA is in the spotlight at South by Southwest this year.

What's happening: The prestigious music, film, culture and tech conference for creatives is back after taking two pandemic years off. Three experts from NWA presented here Friday.

  • The trio shared thoughts about why now — with trends in remote working — is the perfect time to boost heartland economies while also increasing quality of life for U.S. workers.

Details: Angie Cooper, chief program officer of Heartland Forward, Chelsea Peters chief strategy officer at the Walton Family Foundation and Life Works Here recipient Tammy Sun, CEO of fertility benefits company Carrot, led the discussion.

  • I was privileged to moderate the panel.

The big picture: Workers now can choose to live almost anywhere they want to raise their family, enjoy the outdoors or escape hours of commuting each week.

Some key takeaways from the session:

  • Along with recruiting entire industries in order to create more jobs, successful economic developers will also focus on recruiting individuals.
  • Winners will recruit talent who complement existing industries in their regions and can help foster a culture of entrepreneurship.
  • The panelists agreed that diverse skills — as well as diverse people — are important to driving local economies because they bring new perspectives to a community.

Yes, and: "One thing that's great about [NWA incentive program Life Works Here] also is that it recognizes and values the different types of entrepreneurs that there can be," Sun said.

  • She moved from San Francisco, where most entrepreneurs are involved in technology.
  • Life Works Here has attracted a chef and a blogger as well as Walmart workers, software developers and Nate Need, who started a concierge bike rental company.

The bottom line: The panelists underscored how important it is to actively involve recruits in civic opportunities and board positions so they become invested in the community.

  • Recruiting is one thing, but keeping talent in a market is critical.
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