For years, Northwest Arkansas’s fast-rising population growth has outpaced the necessary infrastructure improvements to go along with it. When it comes to getting stuck in traffic, the region’s clogged streets are becoming notorious.
That’s also made interstate proximity an increasingly desirable benefit for companies who do business in Northwest Arkansas. There is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for the multimillion-dollar project to widen Interstate 49 to six lanes from Fayetteville to Bella Vista, and the improved artery should ultimately improve transportation in the two-county area when complete.
And the lure of being near one of newest interchanges along the region’s primary north-south corridor has attracted one of the region’s oldest companies.
Waco Title Co., which traces its roots to 1885 as Washington County Abstract & Guaranty Co. and is owned by Arvest Bank Group Inc. of Bentonville, has recently finished a large-scale construction project along the interstate in Springdale, just north of the Don Tyson Parkway exit east of Interstate 49. The multistate title company has consolidated two of its regional offices and moved about 55 employees into the new corporate headquarters at 2592 S. 48th St.
Longtime company man Patrick Curry, who has worked for Waco Title for 12 years and was promoted from COO to CEO in 2012, said after a staggered relocation process that took about two weeks, all 55 employees were working in the 14,200-square-foot building by Nov. 13. An open house and ribbon cutting will be held at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14.
Curry said the new building is beneficial on several levels, mostly with convenient interstate access and prominent interstate visibility.
Waco Title acquired the 2.3-acre lot last fall from the Ozark Guidance Center Foundation for $809,832 ($8.01 per square foot). It’s next door to a 30,000-square-foot office building that opened in December 2015 and houses the U.S. headquarters of BNSF Logistics, a third-party logistics provider. That building was also developed with a goal of better accessibility. It combined the operations of two, separate former BNSF locations on U.S. Highway 71 Business in Springdale.
“The proximity was really attractive about this location,” Curry said. “This is easier access from so many different areas, and the [interstate] signage was also a key for us. And, we liked the idea of having [all senior management] under one roof. This building was designed for that.”
Commerce Construction Co. of Springdale was the general contractor and used a building permit valued at $1.61 million for the construction. The building was designed by Hight Jackson Associates of Rogers.
Fueled largely by acquiring existing companies — seven of them, to be exact, since 2005 — Waco Title now employs about 190 people, including five in-house attorneys, in 21 locations in central Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri. The company footprint stretches as far north as Springfield, Mo., and as far south as Benton in central Arkansas.
The two most recent acquisitions were the purchase of Joplin, Mo.-based The Title Place in October 2013, and the acquisition in January 2016 of Saline County Abstract & Guaranty Co. in Benton.
Curry said Waco Title’s growth strategy for the future will largely be organic.
“Our vision going forward is really looking at existing opportunities and improving on what we already have,” he said. “We will continue to look at other markets, but we’ve gotten better at growing our opportunities as opposed to acquisitions. I’m not saying [acquisition] is out of the question, but we are planning for growth in markets where we already are.”
Curry said the two Waco Title offices to be consolidated into the new building are the existing Springdale office in Har-Ber Meadows and the facility in Lowell. The Har-Ber Meadows office including operations for closing, post-closing and administration. The Lowell site had the company’s title production facility and title plant.
The company’s other offices in Northwest Arkansas are in Fayetteville (2), Bella Vista, Bentonville, Huntsville and Rogers. Members of the company’s senior leadership team have, at times, floated between different offices throughout Northwest Arkansas. In the new building, Curry, Brian Blackman (COO), Amanda Brumbelow (director of closing operations), Buckley Bridges (director of title operations) and Heather Blaylock (marketing and operations manager) will work side by side. Curry said that will allow for more convenient, regular meetings among leadership, and foster a better channel of communications about best practices amongst the staff.
He explained some of the other highlights of the building design include a large kitchen and breakroom for employees, a wellness room and a larger, dedicated space for digitizing records. He said employee work spaces were also designed for better cross-training of operations, which may lead to faster transactions where the customer is concerned.
“If we have someone out for vacation, for example, it’s easy to step in and cover for them,” Curry said. “There are no gaps in service, and communication is much easier. One thing we strive for is communicating with customers.”
Each of the building’s four closing rooms for customers carries a specific name related to Northwest Arkansas — Old Main, Ozarks, Razorback and 1885. Each room will feature corresponding artwork and décor for its name. The 1885 Room is a nod to Waco Title’s founding year, Curry explained, and each name was chosen based on associate input.
“Our culture and our people are what I am most pleased with about our company,” Curry said. “We have a good group of people who are really hard-working. Overall, our business is changing a lot, and we will be in a position to change with it.”
IN THE PIPELINE
On the west side of the interstate at the Don Tyson Parkway exit, there’s future development already in the pipeline, hoping to capitalize in the growing interest of doing business in close proximity to the I-49 corridor.
Sage Partners of Rogers and Griffin Co. Realtors of Springdale announced Oct. 12 they will lead development of Parkway Plaza, a $180 million, 27-acre commercial project at the southeast corner of Don Tyson Parkway and Gene George Boulevard. The development’s first building, a 40,000-square-foot office building, is being designed by BiLD Architects in Fayetteville, and tenants are being solicited.
A timetable to begin construction will be determined by the leasing interest. A general contractor has not been determined.
Greg Taylor, vice president and executive broker with Griffin Co. Realtors, previously told Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal a project like Parkway Plaza has been lacking in Springdale — an office/commercial address with good access and visibility to Interstate 49. The Don Tyson Parkway interchange with the interstate opened in July 2014.
“With the improvements being made to the interstate, if you’re close to it you can do business in Benton County pretty easy,” Taylor said. “If you’re not, it takes so much time to get across town. This intersection and the Don Tyson Parkway interchange is so accessible and so easy to get on and off of. It makes it convenient.”