FAYETTEVILLE — Northwest Arkansas is projected to have nearly 1 million residents by 2045, almost double this year’s population. Regional planners have started to figure out where to fit all those people.
Planners will be working with each city in the region over the next several months to see where they plan to allow new housing, according to Tim Conklin, senior planner at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.
“Something to think about in each of the cities, obviously, you have only so much land to develop. We have 22 cities that have city limits that adjoin,” Conklin said. “It’s only a certain amount of population you can actually allocate from your jurisdiction, so be thinking about are you going up 15 stories or stick with single families? What areas will remain the same, what areas will be increasing in density? What areas will be increasing in employment? There’ll be an effort by all of us to allocate that. Then look at the land area you have.”
New projections by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock are predicting 974,275 residents in Benton and Washington counties in 25 years. Benton County is predicted to have 545,893 and Washington County 428,382.
Conklin said he wanted a third party to do the forecast. The demographic model used all factors that determine population, including birth rate, death rate, migration in and out, race and ethnicity, he said.
The Northwest Arkansas Council predicted the metro area population would hit 566,100 in February. That estimate assumes the increase of 28.5-people-a-day between the 2010 Census and the U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimate of July 1, 2018, has continued. In the past year, the influx has been 31.9 per day.
The Census Bureau estimated the July 1, 2018, population was 549,128. Both the census figure and the council figure include McDonald County, Mo. McDonald County was removed from the Metropolitan Statistical Area in fall 2018, which will likely lower the numbers some.
Conklin said he doesn’t expect the covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn to have significant impact on the long-term planning process, even though stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders are likely reducing migration into Northwest Arkansas right now. Regional planning has not made any adjustments to the projected growth rates.
“Forecasts are based on many years of historical data and trends that have included recessions and other events that impact the rate of growth,” he said.
Conklin said he’s seen the region’s growth and development patterns first-hand over the past 25 years and doesn’t expect them to change that much.
“Do we continue to grow at the same rate we have for the last 20 to 30 years? All indications are that we will. I can’t see anything changing,” he said. “Walmart announced they are staying here, basically, with their new campus. I think you’d have to have a major disruption in the major employers to change the trajectory of our growth.”
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