On May 26, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce hosted FAB&T Outlook Conway, an executive forecasting event. Arkansas Business Publisher Mitch Bettis interviewed Chamber President and CEO Brad Lacy and Chamber Executive Vice President Jamie Gates about recent trends in the local economy. An excerpt of their conversation is below:
Mitch Bettis: I think about Conway and Faulkner County as places of growth in our state compared to other counties that have seen population declines. What was the population 10 and 20 years ago, and what do we project forward with a trendline? What’s the population trend outlook?
Brad Lacy: Based on the Census Bureau’s recent estimates and the City’s rate of issuing residential building permits, we are in a period of more rapid growth than we’ve experienced over the past decade. Between 2020 and 2021, Conway grew 2.3%, putting us in the top 100 fastest growing cities in the United States with populations over 50,000. Anecdotally, we are seeing more examples of people moving to the area from larger regional metros like Dallas and Houston and from California. We believe the combination of outdoor amenities, affordability, and quality of place sets us up for continued growth.
MB: Unemployment rates nationally are at historic lows. What is that rate in Faulkner County compared to our state and national average? What positions are in greatest need in the area today, and what is projected to be in the greatest need in the next decade?
Jamie Gates: It’s historically low here, too. We’re trending about half a percentage point below the state average. From a labor standpoint, we’re back to the spring of 2019. And that was a really competitive time.
We have a really diverse economy. That’s great for stability. But from a workforce standpoint, it means we have to be everywhere at once. K-12 curriculum needs to be aligned to get the most from every kid. Colleges and universities need to provide graduates prepared to grow our knowledge-based industries. Finally, we have to be a place that professionals will move to and stay. Long-term, we’re capable of offering people exciting careers in manufacturing, health care, technology and finance.
MB: This isn’t necessarily a “data question,” but Conway and the north metro region is competing with other parts of our state for industry and competing to get people to live here. To do that, Conway has invested a great deal in infrastructure and quality of life. What new investments or projects are needed today to continue to entice companies and people to relocate to this area?
BL: The Chamber and Conway Development Corporation have been committed to facilitating the development of, and in some cases, building quality of place amenities for over a decade. We believe it is crucial to build live music venues, outdoor gathering spaces, and local restaurants and microbreweries to continue to be competitive to attract and retain talent.