Surviving and thriving in today’s business climate isn’t about keeping up. It’s about being ahead and leading change, instead of responding to it.
That holds true for communities as well as businesses. Our Northwest Arkansas region can’t afford to rest on the consistent population growth, the success of the Fortune 500 companies or the region’s increasing recognition as a tourism destination. We need to keep going to stay ahead.
Our business community in Arkansas is fortunate to have a secret weapon. The University of Arkansas is one of our best lines of defense against irrelevancy, and it is doing more every year to help the Natural State live up to its full potential. The flagship Fayetteville campus in February announced its economic impact on the state was $2.2 billion in 2018. That’s $1 billion more than it was five years ago — a resounding growth statistic by any account.
But that $2.2 billion is the tip of the iceberg. Some university impacts are hard to quantify. Take, for instance, the university’s leadership on research and cooperation with businesses. Faculty and students at the university are problem solvers by nature, and their solutions feed the Arkansas economy and help keep our companies ahead of the curve.
That’s one reason J.B. Hunt teamed up with the University of Arkansas to open J.B. Hunt On The Hill at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park. Through this new opportunity, up to 60 interns each semester work on projects ranging from engineering to customer experience. We’ve found that students bring unique perspectives and creative solutions as J.B. Hunt focuses on innovating for tomorrow’s transportation opportunities. Of course, the students who engage with J.B. Hunt don’t stay interns forever. They soon join the workforce — sometimes with J.B. Hunt and sometimes with other Arkansas companies that benefit from their educational experience at the University of Arkansas.
Innovative research and the work to ensure that technology is shared with others are two key areas where the university takes a leading role in the state economy. University of Arkansas faculty have never been stronger, with nine junior faculty members receiving Career Awards from the National Science Foundation last year. That trend promises to continue with additional funding from the university and private sources dedicated to attracting and retaining faculty who are on the cutting edge of their disciplines. Business and industry are beneficiaries of faculty expertise, post doctoral fellows and graduate students through sponsored research projects that focus on individual business needs.
Highly innovative research frequently leads to discoveries with far-reaching impacts in the business community and society at large. The University of Arkansas protects marketable discoveries and makes them available to industries in Arkansas and around the world. The university has been particularly prolific in its electrical and chemical engineering discoveries, augmented with a more recent increase in biomedical devices.
The university has placed renewed emphasis on driving economic and social good in Arkansas with the formation of its Office of Economic Development, led by former School of Law Dean Stacy Leeds. The office is tasked with, among other things, helping large companies like J.B. Hunt and small businesses like Ozark Natural Foods find expertise at the University of Arkansas that can benefit their operations.
In Northwest Arkansas, we see the university’s impact every day. Of the $2.2 billion state impact, $1.4 billion of that was specific to Northwest Arkansas. The Northwest Arkansas Council recognizes the importance of the university to the region’s continued health and growth, with one element of its Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy focused on working with the university to double research and development spending.
At the Northwest Arkansas Council and J.B. Hunt, we are thrilled to see the university’s economic impact continue to rise and encourage business and industry to take advantage of the university’s expertise and services, helping our state stay on the leading edge of change.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Nick Hobbs is the presiding co-chair of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a nonprofit organization focused on improving job opportunities and quality of life in the region. Hobbs is president of dedicated contract services and final mile services at J.B. Hunt Transport Services. The opinions expressed are those of the author.