Central Arkansas leaders fear the region is fighting a problem of perception. While northwest Arkansas is viewed as booming, the Little Rock metro area – at least according to some around the country – appears to be struggling.
Arkansas Business reporter Kyle Massey digs into that for a story in this week’s issue. He spoke with KUAR's Michael Hibblen during Morning Edition, which you can hear above.
"One of the problems is that Little Rock has a perception of crime, and that it has some other issues that are involved with it being really the only big city in Arkansas."
"There’s also this idea that Little Rock and the central Arkansas region is just simply falling behind or not doing as well as northwest Arkansas, which has one of the fastest rates of growth among metropolitan statistical areas in the whole United States. The northwest is also home to three Fortune 500 companies and the biggest company in the world Walmart."
Candidates for mayor of Little Rock are advocating change
"Change is a powerful political message, and they see Little Rock as stagnant or certainly capable of doing much better. They all have ideas about crime and schools. The Little School District has been under state control since a number of schools were deemed to be failing. All of the candidates and Mayor (Mark) Stodola himself favor returning the school district to local control. All of the candidates also propose changes that would improve the school district and make it more responsive to the needs of business in the area."
Departure of Alltell Wireless as a major employer
"Well there’s a perception among certain businessmen, several that I‘ve talked to, that the sale of Alltel was just sort of a point in a timeline that suggest that Little Rock was not doing as well as it had been. And one of my sources who chose not to go on the record, we were talking about 4,000 jobs paying $40,000 a year. Of course not all of them went away, but a number of them did. And this fellow has heard from other people in other parts of the country that Little Rock has an image as being riddled with problems. And this, he thinks, is hampering economic development and he believes that Little Rock may be just one or two examples of bad news away from hitting a tipping point of heading downhill."
Competing regions of Arkansas
"Part of the theory is that Little Rock, while it may be growing some jobs, has a low unemployment rate. So does northwest Arkansas, but the idea is that Little Rock hasn’t seized upon opportunities, or maybe just the atmosphere for growth has been better in northwest Arkansas. It maybe is an unfair comparison because very few places have been booming quite as well as northwest Arkansas has over the last ten or twelve years."
KUAR intern Makayla Ealy produced this transcript.