Oct 26, 2023 - News

NWA sees economic growth, needs more housing

Illustration of a repeating pattern of houses made out of hundred dollar bills.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Job prospects are looking good in Northwest Arkansas. Finding affordable and available housing — not so much.

Driving the news: The Northwest Arkansas Council released the annual state of the region report that compares NWA's economic performance to past years and with six "peer regions" like Raleigh, North Carolina, and Madison, Wisconsin.

  • Mervin Jebaraj, director of the University of Arkansas' Center for Business and Economic Research, spoke to government, business and community leaders Wednesday about the report.

The intrigue: The region was responsible for just over half of the roughly 70,000 jobs added in Arkansas since 2020, Jebaraj said.

State of play: Overall, NWA residents are making more money. The median household income increased by 18.8% from $61,761 in 2020 to $73,364 in 2022. The poverty rate dropped from 12.1% to 10.9%.

Details: Most people who want to work and are able to work are working, including teenagers and mothers of young children, Jebaraj said. Restaurants have raised wages to roughly $18 an hour, making it easier to find workers.

  • The unemployment rate was 2.4% in 2022, compared to 4.6% in 2020.

Yes, but: Housing costs are rising faster than in comparable regions. The median price of single-family homes rose 55% from 2019 to $328,400 in 2023, third-fastest of the regions analyzed. The median household income was the lowest of the regions.

What they're saying: Metropolitan areas like Austin, Texas, have seen housing costs decline because they've built so much new housing, Jebaraj said. Vacancy rates in NWA are low — only 1.2% of apartments in Fayetteville are empty.

  • "In three years, if the home prices have gone up by 76% — no company can afford to give three-year increases of 76%. You really have to hold home prices down. You can't expect wages to do this work for you," he said, later noting that NWA's growing population further stresses the need for more housing.

Of note: It's expensive to get out of here post-pandemic. Average airfare has increased by 33% to $499 round trip. Donna Morris, executive vice president and chief people officer at Walmart, said at Wednesday's event that she hears concern about these prices from people Walmart is trying to recruit. They want to travel to see family and friends.


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