Outlook Conway 2019, hosted by the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, gave an overview of the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) that Faulkner County is in with Pulaski, Saline, Grant, Lonoke and Perry counties.

Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation, said that despite a common misconception, northwest Arkansas is not the state’s biggest economic area.

“Central Arkansas is the largest economy in the state by every metric,” he said.

He explained the advantages of being in a thriving MSA.

“Being a part of this is important,” Lacy said. “When businesses are looking for a site to locate, they may not even consider a place with less than 500,000. On our own, [Conway] doesn’t meet that.”

By being part of the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway MSA, which is defined by the US Office of Management and Budget, Conway meets that standard.

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry talked about the importance each city brings to the MSA.

“We have a tremendous workforce in Conway but what we do not have are 500-acre sites for development,” Castleberry said. “By partnering on projects with North Little Rock and Little Rock, we’re better suited to entice companies and businesses with some of our other large employers in central Arkansas.”

Lacy said that more people commute to Faulkner County for work than out of it. During the annual Outlook Conway event on Thursday, Lacy presented attendees with data showing “Conway thrives as part of the regional metro.”

More than 16,000 employees drive in to Faulkner County from at least 20 other counties in the state.

At least 23,000 Faulkner County residents work inside the county, and 25,000 commute to another county for work. Of those who commute, more than 50% of them work in Pulaski County.

Nearly 3,000 people commute to Conway each day for work from Pulaski County while close to 7,500, or roughly 20%, of Conway residents commute to Little Rock and North Little Rock. Around 20,000 Conway residents work where they live.

There are around 5,000 professional and service jobs in Conway versus 3,400 jobs in manufacturing, “making the office economy one of the largest employment sectors,” Lacy said.

“As a seat of higher education and part of a region that includes nearby Little Rock and North Little Rock — the state’s largest metropolitan area — Conway has a renewable pipeline of talent. The office sector jobs that exist in Conway tend to be highly skilled and highly compensated,” Lacy said, noting that the sector’s average weekly pay of $1,140 is $310 more than the average weekly pay of other sectors.

Employers such as Home BancShares, Acxiom, DXC Technology, Insight Enterprises, Ensono and Molex provide the bulk of those jobs.

“We should continue to see growth in the sector as companies like Acxiom and DXC expand,” Lacy said. “The city has a good number of office sites for new construction and our focus on developing downtown will offer additional options.”

The top employers in central Arkansas — according to the February 2019 Bureau of Labor statistics, the latest data available — were education/health services, business/professional services, financial activities and manufacturing, in that order.

For more on Outlook Conway 2019, visit http://www.conwaychamber.org.