An examination of demographic and population trends in Central Arkansas reveals a region with overall lagging growth as the exodus from Little Rock to surrounding cities continues.
"The slowdown in Central Arkansas population growth correlates with an economic slowdown across the decade," regional agency Metroplan reported recently in examining 2020 census data for the six-county region.
Central Arkansas gained 48,300 people though that was dwarfed by explosive growth in Northwest Arkansas, which boomed with nearly 106,600 new residents in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers corridor.
Lower growth in the Little Rock metropolitan area is evident when comparing growth from 2000-10 with population increases over the past decade. In this century's first decade, Little Rock grew nearly 15%; that declined to just 7% in the 2020 census results.
Metroplan's demographic analysis released in December also notes the shifting growth trends among Central Arkansas largest cities and counties.
The Little Rock metro area for more than 50 years has been bolstered by rural residents migrating to the city for jobs and support services. That is no longer the trend as more folks are moving to outlying counties such as Saline and Faulkner, abandoning the state's capital city.
Little Rock, North Little Rock and Conway remain kings of Central Arkansas -- the region's three largest cities account for nearly half of the population with 46% of residents and also provide about 70% of the region's jobs.
Saline County registered the largest population growth over the past decade, recording a 15% jump, and Faulkner County increased by 9%, both well above Pulaski County's 4.3% growth rate.
Grant and Perry counties remained relatively flat while Lonoke added more than 5,600 new residents to reach 8.3% growth over the decade.
Saline's growth spread across the county, with almost all portions of the area gaining population with the sole exception of south Benton and rural areas in the southern portion. Overall, Benton added 4,300 residents mostly in the northern areas of the city, which included strong growth at the Longhills apartment complex. Bryant, however, was right on the heels of its sister city, adding a total of nearly 4,000 new residents.
Both cities outpaced growth in North Little Rock, which added just 2,300 new residents, and were creeping up on Conway, which has been a major growth engine over the past 20 years and added about 5,200 new residents in the 2020 census.
Housing growth in Central Arkansas remains strong and reached its highest level in recent years, according to Metroplan, which reported 931 new single-family units were granted permits during the first six months of 2021. Most cities saw housing increases in the 20% to 30% range though permits in Little Rock jumped up 93%.
Multi-family, or apartment units, continued to show robust growth.
For example, in both Little Rock and North Little Rock more multi-family units have been built over the past decade than single-family homes. Growth in multi-family units is spreading: Bryant issued 12 permits for the complexes in the first half of 2021, compared with having issued zero over the same period from 2018-20.
Looking forward, Metroplan is projecting dim prospects for the lagging growth to turn around anytime soon. Rural residents that have flooded into Central Arkansas in the past will continue to slow – rural areas are experiencing declining populations as well.
Moreover, international sources of in-migration -- foreign-born population that has fueled overall U.S. growth -- are not coming to Central Arkansas. In the Little Rock region, foreign-born population is less than one-third of the national average.
The verdict: "Get used to slow growth," Metroplan reported. "It is the new normal."
Arkansas businesses seeking to strengthen their exporting efforts are invited to take part in a four-part program offered by the Arkansas District Export Council from Jan. 11-17.
The initial one-hour seminar is available from 9-10 a.m. and will focus on export financing. The second session, dedicated to international banking services and trade products, follows at 11 a.m., also on Jan. 11.
Currency payment risk mitigation efforts will be highlighted on Jan. 13 at 9 a.m. and the final session is scheduled for Jan. 17 at 10:30 a.m. with a discussion on export credit insurance.
More information is available at arkansasedc.com/news-events.
NEW SIMMONS UNIT
Simmons Bank is establishing a new Corporate Banking Division to consolidate specialized lines of business loans with a focus on aligning commercial and equipment finance, government and institutional banking, mortgage warehouse lending, commercial deposits, asset-based lending and structured real estate finance.
The effort will be led by Paul Lowe and report to Chief Banking Officer Matt Reddin. The division will be a stand-along unit in Simmons Bank.
"As we continue to pursue growth, the creation of the new corporate banking unit will provide Simmons Bank the focus and flexibility we need to accelerate growth in our specialty lending areas," Reddin said.
Lowe most recently was in charge of Simmons' metro division for the Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville markets.
Tempus Realty Partners of Little Rock recently announced the sale of five out-of-state properties for $64.9 million.
The sale included four industrial properties in Statesville, N.C.; Anderson, S.C.; Portland, Tenn.; and Oshkosh, Wis. An office building in Charlotte, N.C., was sold in a separate transaction. Altogether, the properties totaled 875,208 square feet.
Tempus bought the properties between 2016 and 2020 in separate transactions totaling $44.9 million.
Company Chief Executive Officer Dan Andrews said the firm "has been very active identifying potential purchase opportunities, which we hope to complete and announce soon."
ICBA COMING UP
The Little Rock Venture Center is gearing up to host the fourth cohort supporting financial technology companies that target their products and services to the community banking sector.
The center's ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator initiative begins Jan. 11 at 4 p.m. with an event at the organization's offices at 417 Main St. in Little Rock. The public is invited to attend.
Eleven fintechs, including two from Canada and the rest located across the United States, will participate in the program, which will include an incubator phase and support from mentors and bankers who will help the companies refine their products for commercial use.
The initiative is a partnership with the Independent Community Bankers of America association and the state of Arkansas. More information is available at venturecenter.co.
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