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Arkansas' fastest-growing cities are largely suburbs, and smaller cities that aren't near an urban center are mostly shrinking, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of Arkansas' 501 cities, 327 shrank from 2010 to 2017. Of that 327, all but 10 had 10,000 or fewer people, and all but 23 had 5,000 or fewer people.

"The story really of this decade is the metropolitan areas are growing at the expense of the more rural, non-metropolitan areas," said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Housing data released Thursday also showed housing growth is faster in Arkansas' urban and suburban counties.

While the state of the suburbs is mostly good, growth in their larger urban cores ranges from middling to thriving, depending on the metropolitan area, the data show. In other parts of the United States, major cities with suburban growth often are growing fast as well, although some, like St. Louis and Chicago, aren't.

With so much suburban growth, community leaders need to ensure that areas with employment growth also have housing development that keeps pace, to avoid a housing scarcity that drives prices higher than the areas' wages can afford, economists say.

Population change in Arkansas’ cities, 2010-17

Census estimates for cities and towns show continued population growth in the southern and western United States. In the past year, seven of the 15 fastest-growing cities of 50,000 or more were in Texas.

Arkansas has two of the top 100 fastest-growing cities in the nation since 2010, according to Pam Willrodt, a demographer at the Economic Development Institute. Rogers was the 33rd fastest-growing city (18.7 percent) and Fayetteville was 63rd (15.9 percent), she said.

Five other larger cities -- Jonesboro in northeast Arkansas, Benton and Conway in central Arkansas, and Bentonville and Springdale in Northwest Arkansas -- exceeded 11 percent growth from 2010 to 2017, according to the data.

Arkansas has 14 cities of 30,000 or more people. Other than the seven that surpassed 11 percent growth over that seven-year period, none of the other cities experienced more growth than North Little Rock's 5.8 percent. Those cities with populations of 30,000 or more include Hot Springs, Texarkana and Pine Bluff. Pine Bluff was the only city among the group to shrink, and it has done so by an estimated 12.4 percent.

Smaller growth rates have minimal impact on some cities and a negative impact on others.

Middling growth in Fort Smith, the state's second-largest city, has been coupled with a decline in sales-tax revenue from 2016 to 2017 and a faster population increase since 2010 in the nearby towns of Alma, Barling, Greenwood and Lavaca.

Fort Smith's metropolitan area has relied mostly on its birthrate and some international immigration to grow, according to census data released in March.

City Administrator Carl Geffken said growth higher than 2.1 percent since 2010 would be better, but he said steady growth was still good. He said Fort Smith residents are willing to invest in the city, as evidenced by the approval Tuesday of a 5.558-mill increase in property taxes for the Fort Smith School District. It was the first such millage increase in 31 years.

"Fort Smith has always had the history of slow and steady growth," Geffken said. "And we're looking to change that."

After growing by 4,279 residents from 2010 to 2014, North Little Rock's population has declined since then by 672 people, according to census estimates. Sales-tax revenue in North Little Rock was down in 2016 and 2017 compared with 2015, according to tax data from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

City spokesman Nathan Hamilton said he thought the 2014 figure was probably too high. The city hasn't seen any declines in sanitation customers or users of other city services, he said.

"We really don't put much stock in the year-to-year numbers," Hamilton said. "We look at the long-term trends."

Sales-tax collections declined from 2015 in Texarkana but rose in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Sherwood and even Pine Bluff.

In the suburbs, fast growth can be exciting but intense.

The population of Cave Springs in Northwest Arkansas has jumped 156.3 percent since 2010, from 1,729 to 4,432, and the city doesn't even have a planning director, Mayor Travis Lee said.

At any given time, the Benton County city has about 180 to 200 active building permits, Lee said. A couple of days ago, it was 181.

Most building is residential because most residents work in Bentonville and Fayetteville, he said.

The streets budget has more than quintupled since Lee took office in 2015, the city added a police office last year, and Cave Springs faces challenges related to expanding its utility services.

"Our biggest issue, I think, is water and sewer," Lee said. "Our sewer capacity is getting close to becoming full. We're going to have to be very choosy on who gets sewer."

People move to Cave Springs because it's removed from city life but only 15 minutes away from business and entertainment venues in Northwest Arkansas.

The increase in suburban population in Northwest Arkansas is related to a dearth of mixed-use zoning in the region that could allow people to live closer to where they work, said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Housing prices are on the rise in the area, Jebaraj said. Average home prices in Benton and Washington counties are already tens of thousands of dollars higher than anywhere else in the state, including Pulaski County, Jebaraj said.

Prices aren't so high that the big cities aren't growing, but rising housing prices eventually will hinder population growth if the cities don't adopt more mixed-use zoning, he said.

That kind of zoning, which would allow residential and commercial construction to exist side by side, is not typical of most of the United States, as it is in other countries. But younger residents favor it, Jebaraj said. They want to to live closer to city amenities, such as arts districts and other entertainment.

Bentonville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale have adopted downtown master plans to allow for mixed-use development, Jebaraj said. Fayetteville has done that and has plans to include a major commercial thoroughfare, he said.

Metro on 05/25/2018

Print Headline: State's towns fade as suburbs flourish; Census data show metro-area growth


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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    May 25, 2018 at 6:29 a.m.

    "The story really of this decade is the metropolitan areas are growing at the expense of the more rural, non-metropolitan areas." This should be a wake-up call to Hutchinson's points about the economic growth of Arkansas. The bottom line is the state is not experiencing balanced growth and will continue to degrade as more and more residents locate in the urban and suburban centers. That should also be a troubling sign for Republicans, but I doubt most of the old timers will get the message.
    As the article states, more of the younger set are preferring the urban/suburban areas because of amenities such as culture, recreation, and social atmosphere. Yep, for all the attacks by drs of downtown Little Rock, that's probably what's saving this city from further decline, especially the River Market District.
    With regards to political dynamics, that also means an increase in more progressive voters as the trend has been across the South. In TX for example, the urban centers of Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and even Fort Worth have been flipping to blue as more young professionals flock there for jobs, including many from the right and left coasts.
    With regards to Little Rock, the next administration needs to recognize the trend and look at the numbers. Little Rock shows up in the bottom half of the top ten and will continue to slide unless new leadership enters the picture. That doesn't mean a retired attornery/formerly school superintendent. That means young ideas, preferrably from Warwick Sabin. It also means some directors need to bow out and let some new blood enter the BOD, who's average tenure is almost 20 years. No director should serve more than 10 years at MOST and we have some in the at-large pool at 23 and 24 years.

  • GeneralMac
    May 25, 2018 at 9:43 a.m.

    RBear says........"the state is not experiencing balanced growth"

    Most states don't have " balanced growth"

    RBear will jump on anything to bash Republicans.

  • RBear
    May 25, 2018 at 10:08 a.m.

    Fake but if you listen to Asa, it is. He takes credit for growth ACROSS the state and ignores the declining rural regions.

  • GeneralMac
    May 25, 2018 at 10:25 a.m.

    Is it bad that the cities with sky high crime rates have populations that are declining the fastest?

    I say we should be thankful as given enough years and the same rate of declining population they will disappear.

    Start over fresh then .

  • hurricane46
    May 25, 2018 at 10:34 a.m.

    It's obvious that Fort Smith is getting left behind because of NWA, soon they won't be the second biggest city in the state. If Walmart would put more distribution centers and Tyson would put more chicken plants in the eastern part of the state the job situation would improve. Except for farming there just aren't many jobs left in that part of the state.

  • RBear
    May 25, 2018 at 11:21 a.m.

    It's funny reading fake's scattershot comments on this issue. Pretty evident the old troll doesn't have a clue and is just fishing all around the edges of this pond trying to stay relevant. But let's go there a little bit. People are leaving those areas, not because of crime but because of lack of job opportunities. Rex Nelson has talked about this and the era of farm efficiency. As a result of farm methods that are less labor intensive, the job opportunities in these areas declines.
    When an area experiences high unemployment, crime almost always increases. But people are not moving because of the crime. They are moving to find a job and the economic infrastructure associated with it. What is needed for eastern Arkansas is greater industrial diversification that can exist along side agribusiness. The challenge is infrastructure, especially since what was there has degraded due to lack of attention.
    Should these communities dry up, as fake suggests? Heck no, but they need attention from a governor and legislature who have essentially ignored them over the past four years. The state can't grow off just a few economic epicenters. In fact, it will start to drag the state down economically at some point.
    The upside which fake ignores is that those growth areas tend to swing progressive and embrace diversity. They matter in three areas: the statewide races, the US Senate, and the electoral college. You can talk about the rural voter all you want, but when that person moves to urban and suburban centers they typically will start to swing progressive as they are exposed to more cultures and ideas. It's happening across the country and right wingers are just ignoring it.

  • GeneralMac
    May 25, 2018 at 11:44 a.m. the south the best indicator of whether a city/area is red or blue can be found in the city's detailed profile.

    The higher percent of Blacks, the more likely that area is blue.

  • GeneralMac
    May 25, 2018 at 11:59 a.m.

    RBear.....plenty of "diversity" in NWA.

    Plenty of educated people also in that fast growing area.

    Check out colored maps ( red and blue) to see which way they voted in the 2016 presidential election.

    The only few Blue areas of Arkansas are in the high crime, high Black populated areas of Arkansas.

    Nearly all the delta area with high Black population and poverty voted Blue.

    Kinda debunks your false theory that the higher educated people are, the more they vote Democrat.

  • RBear
    May 25, 2018 at 12:42 p.m.

    ROTFLMAO @ your ignorance. Doesn’t even merit a
    rational response it’s so wrong. Your indicators of correlation are just random thoughts. The dumba$$ in the trailer is pontificating nonsense again.

  • Packman
    May 25, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

    "Your indicators of correlation are just random thoughts." Says the abject hypocrite RBear who says the ban on sporting rifles "worked" because of some silly numbers trend, as if correlation automatically equals causation.