Thousands of Northwest Arkansas residents benefit from the clean, readily available water provided through the Benton/Washington Regional Public Water Authority, also referred to as “Two-Ton,” but most don’t realize how the entity got its nickname.
Two-Ton is just one of many public infrastructures that came about thanks to the Northwest Arkansas Council’s influence. The Council celebrated its 25-year anniversary at its annual meeting Monday (July 20) at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, was one of the first employees of the Council – along with his late wife Carol – when it was born in 1990. He operated as what would now be known as executive director. He shared with The City Wire that they needed a name for the project to put in a funding bill and the decision was made to call it “Two-Ton” based on the fact that it would support both BenTON and WashingTON counties.
“We wanted to create a two-county loop water system,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey was the fourth person to receive the NWA Council Honorary Lifetime Membership award during Monday’s annual meeting luncheon. The previous three recipients are President Bill Clinton, Alice Walton and former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt.
“I’m humbled, honored, and shocked,” Lindsey said after the meeting. “I knew they were up to something but had no idea it was this.”
Lindsey spoke about the early days of the Council including their goal to stay humble yet do great things. The Council has marked many milestones that demonstrate goal completion. He expects Northwest Arkansas’ future to be “extremely bright,” Lindsey concluded.
The NWA Council began with the vision that the entire region could work together to improve the lives of all. The Council is a group of industry, civic and other community leaders who work together to advocate for change and growth in the region. Respective public entities then take on the role of actually completing the various public infrastructure projects.
“In 1990, the Council’s founding members, which included Sam Walton, Alice Walton, Don Tyson, John Tyson, John Lewis, Mark Simmons, J.B. Hunt and about 25 other business leaders, recognized Northwest Arkansas desperately needed better infrastructure if its economic development was going to continue to advance. Walmart Stores and Tyson Foods were already national success stories, but Northwest Arkansas infrastructure remained a challenge,” according to a press release from the Council.
The founders started with specific infrastructure goals, all which have been realized. The annual meeting highlighted the major infrastructure improvements that have been completed in the last 25 years thanks to the NWA Council’s influence:
• NWA Regional Airport (XNA)
• Two-Ton water system
• Providing a North/South corridor highway that is now known as I-49 (then known as Interstate 540)
• Providing an East/West corridor (Highway 412)
• Widening and improving access to multiple state and local highways.
According to the press release: “Since the Council's establishment, the region’s population and total number of jobs have more than doubled. Northwest Arkansas had zero interstate lane miles in 1990; there are 227 lane miles today and more are under construction.”
Dramatic increases occurred in the number of Walmart suppliers with offices in Northwest Arkansas, number of college students and in the region’s minority population. In fact, the number of Latinos living in Northwest Arkansas’ largest cities is 29 times what it was in 1990.
Another major project the Council helped with is the Razorback Greenway, which is a biking/walking trail that goes from Fayetteville to Bella Vista.
Several dignitaries, public officials and other leaders were on hand for the celebration including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He spoke of how Northwest Arkansas is a catalyst for many of the economic growth goals for the state. He shared how it’s important for the state’s governor to be able to compete at the national and international level to get more businesses moving to Arkansas; the importance of being involved in world trade; how Arkansas needs to continue being a leader in growing the supply chain industry; and how Arkansas is “on target” with its computer coding initiative in local high schools.
“We have a lot of things going for us and you helped start it,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve done a lot but we’re not finished.”
The annual meeting ended with a look at the future. The NWA Council has always focused on physical infrastructure improvements that enhance and even create a high quality of life in Northwest Arkansas. That will continue to be a focus but so will growing a “human infrastructure,” said Mike Malone, Council president and CEO.
“The two will have a symbiotic relationship,” he added. “We can’t do one without the other.”
The main focus for “human infrastructure” is attracting more companies to Northwest Arkansas and expanding the job market. Attracting more people here includes further developing the downtown areas and natural spaces, growing in diversity, and further developing the vibrant entrepreneurial culture, according to a video shared at the event.