Bentonville think tank Heartland Forward released Tuesday (April 5) the 2021 edition of its annual Most Dynamic Metropolitans report that shows the Northwest Arkansas metro remained at No. 21 from the 2020 report. The metro was No. 17 in 2019.
Central Arkansas (Little Rock), the state’s largest metro, ranked 220, and the Fort Smith metro, the state’s third largest, ranked 347. In 2020, the Little Rock metro improved to No. 240, from No. 251 in 2019. Over the same period, the Fort Smith metro jumped to No. 287, from No. 352. There were 384 U.S. metro areas as of March 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to a news release, the report ranks and analyzes which metros are making themselves more resilient and moving toward better economic futures for their residents. Higher-ranking areas have assets such as tech hubs, outdoor and lifestyle recreation, and higher education institutions. Also, the top-ranked areas lack a dependence on energy or international tourism and business travel, which were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following are used to determine the rankings: recent employment growth, average income and wage growth, GDP growth, and entrepreneurship metrics that include the density of young business activity in the overall economy and the density of well-educated workers within the workforce employed by those businesses.
Several metro areas have shown improvement over the past years, including Columbia, Mo., which jumped to No. 51, from 75th, and Madison, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich., both of which returned to the top 100. Also, the Memphis, Tenn., metro (No. 219) rose 51 positions this year, and the Kansas City metro (No. 123) climbed 60 places over the past two years.
The underlying structural composition of metro area economies played a more significant role amid the pandemic. Population density and vaccination rates contributed to movements up or down the rankings.
“In a time of unprecedented crises and economic turbulence, American metropolitans have shown their resilience and creativity,” said Ross Devol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward. “We are proud to present the annual Most Dynamic Metropolitans index for the third year in a row, which tracks fluctuations in local economies over a most-challenging time and reveals some glimmers of hope, particularly for those heartland metros that are anchored to universities, experiencing a re-emergence in manufacturing, entrepreneurship, transportation hubs and growing their outdoor recreational amenities. We look forward to tracking this progress year-over-year to help policymakers understand the forces that will improve their economic outputs.”
Following are the top five metros: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., The Villages, Fla., San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, Calif., St. George, Utah, and Provo-Orem, Utah. Utah had five metros in the top 25.
Northwest Arkansas, or the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro, was ranked between Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla., (No. 20) and Colorado Springs, Colo. (No. 22). Key factors for Northwest Arkansas’ rank included economic anchors and a major research university.
The metro, “home to Walmart in Bentonville, combines the advantages of the University of Arkansas, outdoor amenities such as mountain biking, arts and recreation, along with corporate headquarters of logistics giant, J.B. Hunt, and the world’s second-largest protein producer – Tyson Foods,” the release noted.
Following are other Arkansas metro areas and their rank:
Jonesboro, No. 132
Hot Springs, No. 207
Little Rock, No. 220
Texarkana, No. 331
Fort Smith, No. 347
Pine Bluff, No. 355