Wal-Mart announced a $500,000 grant to the Northwest Arkansas Council supporting the advancement of healthy living and economic improvement initiatives throughout the region.
The grant is part of a three-year commitment by Wal-Mart to fund the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, a regional growth and development plan spearheaded in 2010 by the council, local chambers of commerce and other organizations.
In its third year, the grant will impact more than 480,000 local residents through plans to increase access to and quality of education, job opportunities, healthy lifestyles and infrastructure improvements.
Each of these areas of focus support Walmart's mission of creating greater opportunity in Northwest Arkansas by enhancing the quality of life for residents.
"We follow the philosophy of operating globally and giving back locally, and are committed to enriching the lives of the people in our community. By supporting partners such as the Northwest Arkansas Council that share our mission of improving quality of life for area citizens, and by working to provide solutions to the challenges facing our region, we can bring tangible improvements to the region," said Karen Parker, senior manager for Wal-Mart's Northwest Arkansas giving strategy.
The strategic plan includes ongoing commitments in the four following areas.
Educational Achievement: The contribution by Wal-Mart allows the council to work with colleges and universities to increase how many Northwest Arkansas adults obtain a bachelor's degree or higher. The funds contributed support programs such as Reach Out NWA, an initiative to encourage individuals short of a high school degree finish school.
Job Opportunities: Wal-Mart's contribution and time provided by associates support the council's work with entrepreneurs who want to turn great ideas into startups. As a result, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area added 7,500 jobs in the first two years of the council's five-year plan, and average wages increased by $1,900 to about $44,000 annually.
Healthy Lifestyles: This year the council launched EnergizeNWA, a community-led movement designed to increase residents' access to healthy foods and physical activity.
Infrastructure Improvements: The regional airport administration aggressively pursues new air service with assistance from the Northwest Arkansas Council, and the council worked to inform voters about Issue No. 1, a ballot measure approved last year. That measure funds highway construction projects statewide, and it includes starting 77 new lane miles as part of three major projects in Northwest Arkansas by the end of 2015.
"We look forward to working with Wal-Mart for the third year in a row to continue the growth and development of our community through impactful advancements in everything from education to jobs," said Mike Malone, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. "Through their generous support, we are working together with local leaders to ensure Northwest Arkansas continues to be a great place to work and raise a family.