Jul 12, 2023 - Business

Tulsa and NWA are becoming a "super region"

Illustration of an open road made of a hundred dollar bill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Even the sky's no limit when regions combine economic forces.

What's happening: Northwest Arkansas and Tulsa are moving closer to becoming a "super region," a recent report from Heartland Forward states.

  • When leveraging different but complementary infrastructures and expertise, the combined regions are dubbed the 412 Corridor after U.S. Highway 412, which connects the metros separated by more than 100 miles.

The big picture: Authors hope the cross-border collaboration will provide a roadmap for other regions in the middle of the U.S. to use their strengths and build economic clusters of industries that attract talent and investment.

Quick take: The report outlines how NWA and Tulsa can use their respective industries in transportation manufacturing, logistics, oil and gas production, and even drone applications to create a sum larger than its parts. A few examples of market overlap include:

  • The oil and gas industry in Tulsa uses drones to survey pipeline infrastructure; NWA has been a test market for delivery by drone for nearly two years.
  • American Airlines' largest maintenance facility is in Tulsa; investors are actively building an aviation cluster in NWA.
  • Tulsa's freight transportation focus is around its port and railroads; NWA's is mostly on trucking and the logistics industry.
  • Both areas are vested in electric vehicle fleets and driverless trucking.

Context: Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility in February 2022 with an aim to make the state a leader in "next-generation transportation" by 2030. This had the backing of J.B. Hunt Transport Services, FedEx, Walmart and the University of Arkansas.

  • Hutchinson and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an agreement in August for the states to work together on drones, electric vehicles, logistics and "other multi-dimensional mobility technologies."

What they did: The two states' agreement culminated in a grant application to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Regional Innovation Engine program earlier this year. The program awards regional partners up to $160 million for up to 10 years.

Yes, but: The FLAME application did not win an NSF grant.

  • Still, authors say the FLAME application process "cemented partnerships" across the state line and within regulatory agencies so there's a path to future collaboration.
  • The exercise has the added benefit of serving as a case study for other regions.

What we're watching: FLAME is still eligible for a smaller grant to refine the proposal. Awards are expected in the fall.


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