A new study conducted by Echelon Insights and commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) in Bentonville sought to understand how Gen Zers in Northwest Arkansas view opportunity in the region.
Results from the May focus groups are included in a 40-page report released Thursday by WFF. It shows that young people want to live in vibrant communities with various jobs, good schools, local amenities, resources to obtain real-world skills and where everyone can afford a home. They also want to live in a community that promotes respect and inclusion.
“Lifting up young people must be a priority for Northwest Arkansas to realize its full potential as one of the country’s most inclusive communities,” Emma Pengelly, the Walton Family Foundation’s interim Home Region Program director, said in a statement. “The next generation celebrates respect and togetherness — values that will help build a region where everyone feels welcomed.”
The foundation’s Home Region Program focuses on quality of life initiatives in Northwest Arkansas, as well as the Delta Region of Arkansas and Mississippi.
According to the foundation’s news release, Northwest Arkansas youth cite available jobs in their chosen career fields and good public schools along with housing that is accessible to everyone as the three most essential factors in selecting where to live. Respondents also prioritize walkability, bikeability and easy access to nature. When describing their ideal communities, the teens often stress the importance of diversity and inclusion, which they believe is critical for residents to be their most authentic selves.
This spring, as part of its Home Region Program work, the foundation commissioned local focus group discussions with teenagers aged 13 through 18 to better understand their views on where they want to live in the future and why. The effort is a follow-up to studies in the summer of 2020 and in January 2021. The foundation partnered with Echelon Insights to release a national report, “Millennials and Generation Z: Agents of Change,” that delved into young Americans’ thoughts about the future, including what factors may guide their decisions about where to live.
While the young people were largely optimistic about Northwest Arkansas’ future, many feel additional action is needed to promote inclusivity and maintain the region’s unique character. As the area grows, they believe increased gentrification, environmental challenges, a higher cost of living and overcrowding may be potential concerns.