Life is good for the vast majority of Northwest Arkansas residents, according to recent survey commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation.
The survey found that 94% of respondents are happy with life overall, while 85% rate the qualify of their lives as excellent or good and 83% say they have a sense of pride in the way their city looks.
But local residents also want to see more affordable, high quality pre-K options for area children, less traffic issues and more frequent flights to more destinations in addition to more public transportation options.
The Quality of Life Survey highlights six key areas: Amenities, education, diversity, environment, economic development and infrastructure.
The foundation commissioned the survey to access its grant-making strategies in Northwest Arkansas. As part of its Home Region Focus Area, the foundation intends to positively impact the quality of life for local residents through focused investment in the five key areas.
Rob Brothers, director for Home Region for the Walton Family Foundation, said the strategy is driven by a desire to help the region’s major employers attract and keep a high quality workforce.
The Walton Family Foundation is midway through a five-year strategic plan for grant making. Investments of $23.5 million have been made to 36 organizations from January 2010 through August 2012.
“This survey provides a deeper look into what quality of life means in Northwest Arkansas, beyond jobs numbers and tax revenue,” Brothers said.
He said the results validate many of the foundation’s investments as well as provide a new baseline from which to measure future investment strategies.
Business and economic leaders often say Northwest Arkansas looks better than most metro areas of its size and some larger, as the region consistently has one of the lower unemployment rates and higher growth rates in the state and country.
When measuring quality of life factors such as jobs, income and family, Northwest Arkansas respondents were 94% happier on average as a group compared to 91.5% of the nation as a whole, as tracked by a University of Chicago study.
Approximately 25% of those local respondents said they did not have enough money to meet their everyday needs. This demographic is 51% female, 83% white, while 52% has a household income of under $20,000 annually.
The local region ranks high for its amenities and art opportunities. The most popular amenities among the local respondents include:
Local trails - 63%
Crystal Bridges Museum - 42%
The Jones Center - 41%
Walton Arts Center - 40%
The Walton Family Foundation supports all four of these amenities.
"One of the points that stood out in the survey was the very high number of respondents that use cultural, arts, and natural amenities like the Jones Center, Walton Arts Center, Crystal Bridges, and the developing regional trail system, Brothers said. "Across the country, most amenities of this sort are used by just over 20% of residents. Our survey showed a 40 to 63% usage rate. These results affirm the Walton Family Foundation strategies in which we have supported such amenities"
Ed Clifford, CEO of the Jones Center, said recently that the Jones Center is a bridge like no other in the region to unite families from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
He said the region is blessed with thousands of good jobs and affluent business professionals but that’s just half of the story, as there are many families struggling at or below the poverty level with a very different set of needs and wants.
The Jones Center has expanded its offering for area children this summer with special grants from the Walton Family Foundation that will recreate War Eagle for 100 additional children in a day-camp environment.
The Jones Center also has made scholarships available for membership among families who can’t afford the annual dues.
OTHER SURVEY RESULTS
21% believe pre-K is affordable
68% believe water quality is good
60% would like to see more public transit options
68-77% believe K-12 and higher education to be of good quality
60% say diverse lifestyles and cultures make Northwest Arkansas a better place to live
55% of respondents who moved to NWA in the past five years did so for their job
16% of transplants have friends or family here
8% of transplants relocated to NWA for quality of life reasons