Jan 3, 2024 - News

5 Northwest Arkansas stories to watch in 2024

Animated illustration of a vortex of concentric circles with the year 2024 and Axios logos flying out of it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A new year's arrival is a good time to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

  • Here are some narratives we'll be watching in 2024:

Legal wranglings

βš–οΈ By design, democracy is a push-pull and slow-moving system. Several issues are traveling through various stages of that process.

  • Different groups are working to get measures on statewide ballots in November, so Arkansas voters can have a voice in whether to modify the state's abortion law and codify transparency laws in the Arkansas Constitution. So far, Attorney General Tim Griffin has rejected ballot language on both issues.
  • The battle over the country's first social media age verification law that requires new users to verify their age is still being fought in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
  • There's still no resolution to the lawsuit Oklahoma filed against 11 Arkansas poultry companies in 2005 over pollution of the Illinois River watershed. The companies have filed for dismissal again, but there's not yet been an answer.

Housing development and costs

🏑 The cost of housing has rapidly become one of NWA's biggest hurdles, as the income needed to afford a median-value home has soared.

Sanders squabbles

πŸ”Ž Sarah Huckabee Sanders had some accomplishments in her first year as governor β€” lower taxes, a revenue surplus and higher teacher wages β€” but controversy also dogged the administration.

  • Podiumgate, the pithy term used to describe the scandal over a $19,000 lectern and alleged document alterations, is under review by the Arkansas Legislative Audit. The findings are expected early this year.
  • Late in 2023, Sanders encouraged Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri to add 500 beds to state prisons and essentially ignored the authority of the Board of Corrections. Griffin, the state's AG, is now involved and has been found in "clear violation" of his duty to the state prison board.

The great outdoors

β›Ί The Sanders administration has prioritized tourism and the related economic boost by leveraging the state's natural resources. It's now a front-burner issue and we'll see it manifest in several threads this year.

  • Though there's no formal effort to redesignate the Buffalo National River as a national park and preserve, a survey stirred controversy in small towns adjacent to the waterway. It's not yet known if there will be an actual push to change this year.

Yes, and: Did we mention Bobby Petrino? The hiring of the former Arkansas head football coach as offensive coordinator has raised hope for the Razorbacks next fall.

Medical school and health nonprofit

βš•οΈThe Heartland Whole Health Institute is set to open its doors next fall.

  • The institute, and the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine, were founded and paid for by Walmart heir Alice Walton. They're under construction near Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. They aim to transform health care by taking a "whole health" approach β€” focusing on physical, emotional and mental health, as well as emphasizing preventive care and healthy lifestyles.
  • The institute is a nonprofit that advocates for lowering health care costs while acting as a community resource.
  • The School of Medicine is a four-year institute that will train doctors in the "whole health" way. School leaders expect to accept 48 students into the first class in 2025.

The bottom line: Stay tuned.

Go deeper: What we said a year ago

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine is scheduled to open in 2025, not 2024.

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