Implementing a four-year plan to ensure a diverse community feels welcome and included in Northwest Arkansas is essential to the region’s long-term economic success, Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, told a group of community leaders, government officials, educators and other officials Tuesday (July 31).
Peacock spoke during the unveiling of the EngageNWA Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022, sponsored by Walmart, Tyson Foods and the Northwest Arkansas Council. The news conference was held at The Jones Center in Springdale.
The stated purpose of the plan is “to create a roadmap that outlines intentional steps for regional partners to work together toward the common goal of maximizing inclusion of everyone in the regional community,” Peacock said.
Peacock told the crowd the region continues to grow rapidly, with a population that’s increasing by 30 new residents each day. Fifty-six percent of all residents were not born here and by 2022, one-third of the population will be people of color, he said.
“EngageNWA is intended to help develop a social infrastructure to make sure we continue to grow in a way that makes everyone who wants to make NWA home will feel welcome to stay here, feels comfortable moving here to contribute to our community and to our regional economy,” Peacock said. “This is essential. In the global economy, a talented workforce is the key to success. We need to be able to educate, retain home grown talent and we need to be sure we can attract talent whether it’s from Chicago, Indiana or overseas.”
Hector Gonzales, vice president of human resources at Tyson Foods, and Julie Gehrki, vice president at the Walmart Foundation, both spoke of their companies’ commitment to diversity and inclusion in the area and the EngageNWA plan.
Gehrki said Walmart believes in the plan because it “strengthens business.” Diversity produces better outcomes and drives innovation, she said.
Tyson Foods demonstrated a significant commitment to EngageNWA by funding a portion of the plan through a collaborative grant of $262,466 with five separate entities. The Northwest Arkansas Council is the project manager, with the city of Springdale receiving $96,400, CanopyNWA receiving $37,979, Teen Action and Support Center receiving $24,406, Welcoming America receiving $40,000 and EngageNWA receiving $63,681.
Margot Lemaster, executive director of EngageNWA, said the plan was developed over a year’s time with input from over 200 stakeholders who identified the following challenges:
- Ability to attract, grow and retain the workforce needed for the region to be successful;
- Closer alignment with the region’s demographics of leadership in all sectors;
- Ability of all residents to understand the local systems and how to access the services they need to fully participate at work, home or in the community;
- Increased understanding of one another and ability to communicate across differences.
The plan is broken into five priority areas: Economic Development, Government Leadership and Equitable Access, Community Civic Engagement, Safe and Connected Communities, and Education. It includes 100 intentional actions to address the challenges. Lead agencies responsible for implementing the goals, and key partners for the work, are highlighted and a one- to four-year time frame is given in the plan. Planning and implementation will happen in collaboration with partners in business, local government, education and the community.
The report states the key initiatives of the plan are:
- Create a civic engagement academy to help community members better understand and participate in city government.
- Develop a program that identifies, trains and helps connect qualified individuals to leadership roles and opportunities.
- Coordinate a one-step online resource directory of amenities and services for diverse individuals moving to and living in NWA.
- Increase the number of school teachers with diverse backgrounds to align with student demographics.
The work of EngageNWA is part of the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, issued by the Northwest Arkansas Council on July 10.