Feb 22, 2024 - News

Northwest Arkansas rallies secret sweet spots as destinations

Illustration of a woman pulling a gigantic roller suitcase

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hoping to prove a sum is greater than its parts, four metros from different states have banded together as the Coalition of Hip Hideaways to attract talent and tourism for economic transformation.

Why it matters: Lesser-known areas like Northwest Arkansas stand to benefit from a slow migration to 20 central states that some call the heartland.

State of play: The collaboration with Colorado Springs, Colorado; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Missoula, Montana, was spearheaded by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

  • All metros face similar challenges with economic growth and workforce issues, Nelson Peacock, CEO of the council, told Axios.

Context: The NWA Council is a private nonprofit working to advance job opportunities, recruitment, infrastructure, access to health care, attainable housing and quality of life in the region.

Details: The new coalition will meet virtually each quarter to share how they deal with problems like retaining and recruiting workers, housing and related growing pains of regions on the cusp of a spurt.

  • "I think we can learn a lot more about … how Chattanooga struggled with affordable housing than we can by looking at Oakland, California," Peacock said.
  • The first gathering was earlier this month, when the coalition briefed a public relations firm it hired on everything from "highways to venture capital" Peacock said.

Between the lines: Quality of life is a common denominator among the four metros, Rhett Bentley of Chattanooga's Thrive Regional Partnership told Axios.

  • Thrive serves 16 counties in southeast Tennessee, northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia.
  • From Thrive's formation in 2012, it was clear that residents wanted to celebrate the area's natural assets — mountains and rivers — but maintain its natural integrity, she said.

What they're saying: "I don't know that we're pushing for growth," Peacock said. "We're pushing to be able to recruit and get the talent that we need for the jobs that are here — and to preserve and to diversify the economy … it's a protection measure. You know, just because we've had success the past 30 years, the future is not guaranteed."

The bottom line: Changing policy isn't necessarily a priority, Peacock said, and how each coalition city attempts to change its state laws or influence elected officials will vary.

  • Yes, but: For Northwest Arkansas, "If we don't have some really smart, thoughtful policies about how we grow where we grow … we risk the potential to be a parking lot," Peacock said.

What we're watching: It's not yet clear how the Hip Hideaway's public relations efforts will be used to attract visitors to each metro.

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