As the exodus from Little Rock to surrounding communities continues, demographic and population statistics in Central Arkansas reflect a region with overall weak growth.
In a recent analysis of 2020 census data for the six-county region, regional organization Metroplan found that “the slowdown in Central Arkansas population growth aligns with an economic decline across the decade.”
Central Arkansas grew by 48,300 individuals, but Northwest Arkansas exploded with approximately 106,600 new residents in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers region.
When comparing population increases during the last decade with growth from 2000 to 2010, the Little Rock metropolitan region shows lower growth. Little Rock gained over 15% in the first decade of this century, but only 7% according to the 2020 census data.
The shifting growth trends among Central Arkansas’ main cities and counties were also noted in Metroplan’s demographic research issued in December.
For more than 50 years, the Little Rock metro area has benefited from rural citizens commuting to the city for jobs and support services. That is no longer the case, as more people are leaving the state capital for surrounding counties like Saline and Faulkner.
Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Conway continue to reign supreme in Central Arkansas; the three largest cities account for over half of the region’s population (46%) and generate roughly 70% of the region’s jobs.
Saline County, with a 15 percent rise in population over the last decade, and Faulkner County, with a 9 percent gain, both outperformed Pulaski County’s 4.3 percent growth rate.
Grant and Perry counties stayed essentially steady, but Lonoke grew by 8.3 percent throughout the decade, adding more over 5,600 new persons.
With the exception of south Benton and rural areas in the southern section, Saline’s expansion stretched over the county, with practically all parts of the territory increasing population. Overall, Benton gained 4,300 residents, largely in the city’s northern regions, with the Longhills apartment complex seeing particularly substantial growth. Bryant, on the other hand, followed closely after its sister city, adding approximately 4,000 additional residents.
Both cities exceeded North Little Rock, which added only 2,300 new residents in the 2020 census, and were catching up to Conway, which has been a key growth engine for the past 20 years and added around 5,200 new residents.
According to Metroplan, which announced 931 new single-family units were given permits during the first six months of 2021, housing growth in Central Arkansas is strong and has reached its greatest level in recent years. The majority of communities witnessed housing growth of 20% to 30%, but Little Rock saw a 93 percent surge in permits.
Multi-family housing, sometimes known as apartment flats, has continued to grow strongly.
In Little Rock and North Little Rock, for example, there have been more multi-family apartments erected in the last decade than single-family dwellings. Bryant issued 12 licenses for multi-family complexes in the first half of 2021, compared to nil during the same period in 2018-20.
Looking ahead, Metroplan sees little chance of the sluggish growth picking up very soon. The influx of rural individuals into Central Arkansas in the past has slowed, and rural areas are seeing population declines as well.
Furthermore, international in-migration – the foreign-born population that has fuelled overall U.S. growth – is not coming to Central Arkansas. The foreign-born population in Little Rock is less than one-third of the national average.
The verdict, according to Metroplan, is “Get used to slow growth.” “This is the new normal,” says the narrator.
SUPPORT FOR EXPORT
From Jan. 11 to 17, Arkansas firms interested in improving their exporting operations are encouraged to participate in a four-part program presented by the Arkansas District Export Council.
The first one-hour session, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., will focus on export financing. The second session, which will focus on international banking services and trade products, will begin at 11 a.m. on the same day.
Currency payment risk reduction activities will be highlighted on Jan. 13 at 9 a.m., and a talk on export credit insurance will be held on Jan. 17 at 10:30 a.m.
More details can be found at arkansasedc.com/news-events.
SIMMONS NEW UNIT
Simmons Bank is launching a new Corporate Banking Division to bring together specialized lines of business lending, with a focus on commercial and equipment financing, government and institutional banking, mortgage warehouse lending, commercial deposits, asset-based lending, and structured real estate finance.
Paul Lowe will lead the endeavor and will report to Chief Banking Officer Matt Reddin. In Simmons Bank, the division will be a stand-alone unit.
“The launch of the new corporate banking unit will provide Simmons Bank with the focus and flexibility we need to drive growth in our specialist loan areas as we continue to pursue expansion,” Reddin said.
Lowe was most recently in head of Simmons’ metro division, which included the markets of Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville.
SALES FROM OUTSIDE THE STATE
Little Rock-based Tempus Realty Partners recently sold five out-of-state properties for $64.9 million.
Four industrial properties in Statesville, N.C., Anderson, S.C., Portland, Tenn., and Oshkosh, Wis. were sold in the transaction. A separate transaction involved the sale of an office facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. The total square footage of the properties was 875,208 square feet.
Tempus purchased the properties in four separate deals totaling $44.9 million between 2016 and 2020.
“We’ve been quite active identifying prospective purchase opportunities,” said company CEO Dan Andrews, “which we intend to finalize and announce soon.”
ICBA IS APPROACHING
The Little Rock Venture Center is preparing to welcome the fourth cohort, which will support financial technology startups that target the community banking industry with their products and services.
The ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator project kicks out on Jan. 11 at 4 p.m. at the center’s headquarters at 417 Main St. in Little Rock. The event is open to the public.
The program will feature an incubator phase as well as support from mentors and bankers who will help the companies perfect their products for commercial usage. The program will include two fintechs from Canada and the others from around the United States.
The project is a collaboration between the Independent Community Bankers of America and the state of Arkansas. Visit venturecenter.co for more information.