One-Third Of Northwest Arkansas Will Be People Of Color By 2026, According to a New Report
The Northwest Arkansas population is looking more and more diverse as racial and ethnic minorities are expected to represent nearly one-third of the region’s population by 2026, according to a new report.
The 2022 Diversity report, published by the Northwest Arkansas Council, chronicles the region’s population growth over the last decade, looks at the racial and ethnic diversity in the area’s main cities, and provides a comparative analysis of Arkansas versus several peer regions.
One of the findings highlights the speed at which Arkansas’ diverse population is rising. From 1990 to 2010, the region’s racially and ethnically diverse populations increased from less than 5% to nearly 24%. In 2021, minorities accounted for over 29% of Northwest Arkansas’ population. That number is expected to grow to over 32% by 2026.
Currently, the Hispanic population represents more than 17% of the population and is expected to increase to 19% by 2026, making it the community with the largest growth. The Asian population will grow to 4.1%, followed by mixed races with a 3% representation, Blacks at 2.8%, Pacific Islanders–including the Marshallese community–at 2%, and Indigenous Groups at 1.3%.
Overall, the region’s population has experienced a boom in the past decade, growing by 20% since 2010, and is expected to grow another 10% from 555,000 to 611,000 people in four years.
Diversity in Northwest Arkansas’ School Districts
One of the areas the report focuses on and looks at for its 2026 projections is the region’s school districts.
“When you place the school district’s demographics next to that of the city, in almost all cases, the school districts are significantly more diverse than each of our cities. So, when we are making projections into the future, we’re really looking at our youth. The future leaders of Northwest Arkansas are the youth in our schools, and when you look at the number of languages represented, I mean, it’s pretty incredible,” said Margot Lemaster, executive director of NWA Council’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion arm.
Springdale is the most diverse school district in the region. Its students speak 49 languages, including Spanish and Marshallese. The diverse population of students in the city represents 68% of enrollment. Hispanic/Latino account for 48% of enrollment, with 35% of students classified as English learners.
The Siloam Springs School District’s diverse populations far outpace the city’s 36.2% diverse populations at 50%. In Rogers, the diverse population of students represents 57% of its enrollment, whereas the city is 43% diverse. The Fayetteville school district’s diverse student enrollment percentage outpaces the city’s diverse population percentage, with 36% of students identified as diverse compared to the city’s 24%.
Political and economic impact of a diverse Northwest Arkansas
Northwest Arkansas’ growing diverse population is not only influencing school districts, community, and infrastructure, but it is also influencing the region financially and politically.
“We know increased diversity leads to greater innovation, and it’s been a huge economic driver for our region. This increase in diversity contributes to our growing economy, but it also adds to the cultural richness of the region and the opportunities that exist for everyone to really be able to learn from and experience different cultures,” said Lemaster.
In fact, the state has drawn new legislative maps based on the 2020 U.S. Census to incorporate two new majority-minority districts in the Arkansas House. According to the Board of Apportionment, one of these districts is the state’s first predominantly Hispanic district. There are two Hispanic candidates in the running for the upcoming November election to represent these two districts.
Why Northwest Arkansas?
While there are many reasons for minorities to choose Northwest Arkansas as their new home, several stand out, according to Lemaster.
“The region has a lot of job opportunities, for one. We also have a high quality of life and a low cost of living relative to other parts of the United States. We also have a lot happening in terms of infrastructure and quality of life amenities,” said Lemaster.
According to a U.S. News & World Report, NWA is ranked number 4 in its 150 Best Places to Live in the United States in the 2022-2022 ranking. It is also ranked number 40 on a Forbes list of Best Places for Business and Careers and number 10 in job growth.
“We definitely see the diversity in our business community in downtown Springdale, Rogers, Fayetteville, and Bentonville. So many new businesses are being opened with increasingly diverse representation,” said Lemaster.
“Looking at the nonprofit community as well, their work is either diverse-led organizations or seeking to address the needs of our diverse community. We see this growth in diversity in the face of our downtown. We see it happening across neighborhoods and regions.”
Is the region ready to welcome the influx of new population?
While there is still much work to be done to make Northwest Arkansas a more diverse and welcoming region, the influx of diverse populations is being welcomed with infrastructure to settle, study, work, and open new businesses.
In 2020, nearly 25% of angel and seed investment dollars went to companies founded by BIPOC in Arkansas, whereas the national average is 3%.
School districts are taking action to increase the diversity of their staff as the vast majority of teachers in Benton and Washington counties are white (94%). In comparison, a rapidly growing portion of students are racially and ethnically diverse (42%).
Local organizations are helping solve housing affordability issues, providing banking solutions for multilingual communities, and improving health literacy in underrepresented communities.
Diversity by City | Where are people settling?
- Bentonville’s growth rate is the most staggering, with an increase of 53% in the past decade.
- By 2026, Asians are expected to account for 14% of the population versus 12% in 2011.
- Fayetteville’s diverse population will account for over 27% of its population by 2026.
- Fayetteville’s 6.8% Black population is the largest concentration of the group in NWA.
- Rogers grew from nearly 38% diverse in 2010 to 43% diverse in 2021.
- By 2026, the city is expected to be over 45% diverse, with 35% of its population being Latinos.
- Siloam Springs’ diverse population accounts for 36.2% in 2021, expected to be 39% by 2026.
- It has the third largest proportion of Hispanics/Latino, making up 24% of the city’s population.
- Springdale’s population increased by more than 20% from 2010 to 2021 and is expected to increase an additional 7% by 2026.
- Springdale has the largest population of Pacific Islanders, with over 8% of its population in 2021 and expected to approach 10% in 2026.
Other elements of diversity besides ethnicity
Although the NWA Council report focuses on racial and ethnic diversity, other diversity elements influence the community’s growth. The Human Rights Campaign recently reported that nearly 8% of the total U.S. adult population identifies as 2SLGBTQIA+, double the number in the past decade.
Research suggests that Generation Z adults are even more likely to identify as 2SLGBTQIA+—about 21%—compared with 10.5% of millennials, 4.2% of Generation X, 2.6% of baby boomers, and 0.8 % of traditionalists, according to the Gallup survey published earlier this year.