FAYETTEVILLE — Northwest Arkansas' racial and ethnic minorities are expected to grow to nearly one-third of the region's population by 2026, according to a report released by the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Council.
The numbers show an increase in diversity from three decades ago when the region's population was 95% white.
The report documents the region’s population growth over the last decade, provides a comparative analysis with several peer regions and highlights the racial and ethnic diversity in the area’s school districts.
The region's population has seen a dramatic increase over the past decade, growing by 20% since 2010.
The most recent census data shows the region experiences a net population gain of 30 people per day. That number is fueled by a 2% growth rate from 2020 to 2021 which added over 11,000 people in Northwest Arkansas.
In four years, the population is expected to grow by another 10% from 555,000 to 611,000 people.
The region’s racially and ethnically diverse populations increased from less than 5% in 1990 to nearly 24% in 2010, according to the study. Since then, diversity has continued to increase.
In 2021, minorities accounted for over 29% of Northwest Arkansas' population. That number is expected to grow to over 32% by 2026.
The region’s Hispanic population saw the largest gains, accounting for over 17% of the population in 2021 and forecasted to grow to 19% by 2026. Asians will grow to 4.1%, mixed races to 3%, Blacks to 2.8%, Pacific Islanders to 2% and American Indians to 1.3%.
Fayetteville remains the largest city in the region, and is now the second-largest in the state.
Each of Fayetteville's minority populations has seen steady growth since 2010. Minorities currently make up 24% of the city, which is a 16% increase since 2010. The report estimates another 3.3% growth in diversity over the next four years.
Fayetteville has a 6.8% Black population, which is the largest in the region. By 2026, Black people are expected to account for 7.5% of Fayetteville residents.
The report compares Northwest Arkansas to six peer regions identified by the council, including Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis.; Des Moines, Iowa; Provo, Utah; along with Raleigh and Durham, N.C. Each of those regions also show an increase in diversity over the past decade.
The study also provided specific date for each of the region's largest school districts.
In many cases, the diversity in the region's school districts is growing faster than the diversity of the overall region’s population, according to the report. Those figures show that school districts in Northwest Arkansas are on the frontline of demographic change.
Minority students in the Rogers and Springdale school districts, for example, have grown to outnumber white people.
Diversity in Fayetteville's school district’s enrollment percentage is outpacing the city’s diverse population percentage with 36% of students identified as diverse compared to the city’s 24%.
"The Northwest Arkansas Council, through its EngageNWA program, works with partners to foster belonging for everyone who calls the region home," the report says. "Recognizing differences and striving for connectedness and understanding contributes to an environment where people feel included, and this encourages people to put down roots and give back to their communities in meaningful ways. In turn, this will build regional economic strength and cultural richness that benefits all."