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NW Arkansas Council unifies regional efforts.

Powerful Group Lobbies to Fight Growth Problems

TO MEET THE DEMANDS -- present and future -- that a rapidly growing area like northwest Arkansas generates, a group of heavy-hitting business and civic leaders formed the Northwest Arkansas Council.

"The council was formed to provide a forum to say 'This might be a problem,' then to find an innovative way to address it and to raise private funds to look at it," says Scott Vanlaningham of Ozark International Consultants, a spokesman for the council.

The council was created in 1990 as a private, non-profit organization. One of its more publicized issues is the proposed Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, but Vanlaningham says "it's one of the projects the council is interested in, not the only one."

Council member Fred Vorsanger, former Fayetteville mayor and current city councilman, says northwest Arkansas' growth requires a cooperative effort among the region's residents.

"Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers -- they can't do it alone," Vorsanger says. "Rogers is growing even faster than we are."

The cooperative spirit is the key, Vorsanger says.

"Even the business leaders from Little Rock who visited here admitted northwest Arkansas was ahead of them in meeting the problems of the future," Vorsanger says.

After the regional airport, Vorsanger says, overall infrastructure would be listed as the most pressing need. He says he hopes the council will concentrate on the major roads, streets, water quality and waste problems of the region.

Dick Barclay, a Rogers accountant and former state representative, says the infrastructure needs are on everyone's minds.

"The needs of better education have always topped the list in area chambers of commerce polls," he says. "For the first time ever, this year transportation was said to be the most immediate need."

John Lewis, president of the Bank of Fayetteville, says the council has accomplished one of its first goals--to improve communication between Washington and Benton counties and to address long-range strategic planning.

Barclay echoes the value of the coalition.

"The communities have come to realize that they are a region, that their problems are not just community problems," Barclay says.

The council began by assessing the region's strengths and weaknesses, Lewis says, "and one of our obvious weaknesses is our highways and airports."

Rural water projects are high on the list, too, Lewis says. A recently completed two-ton water loop that will provide water from Beaver Lake to the western parts of Washington and Benton counties will serve the rural areas, as well as the communities of Gravette, Gentry, Decatur and possibly Siloam Springs.

"Eighty percent of the wells in northwest Arkansas are polluted to some degree," Lewis says. "The communities can't provide the needed improvements by themselves because it looks like the federal clean water standards are going to be just too complex for a small community to comply with them all."

Lee Zachary, executive director of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, says the council's part in these projects is to lobby and to pay consultant's fees to put pressure on Congress. Members of the council have spoken before the House Public Works and Transportation Committee--the same committee on which council co-chairperson John Paul Hammerschmidt was the ranking Republican before his retirement.

"Everybody in the country is looking for money," Zachary says. "Congress doesn't just shuffle the cards and deal out $5 million or $10 million to you just because you're a good boy."

Northwest Arkansas hasn't gotten its deserved share of highway funds in the past, Zachary says.

Zachary points with pride to the near completion of U.S. Highway 412 improvements. When the current project is completed, Springdale will be linked to Tulsa, Okla., with a four-lane highway.

"The council is working strongly on transportation problems, and thank goodness," he says.

Additional road and bypass construction will be needed as the cities in northwest Arkansas grow together and residents need ways to get from one city to another efficiently, Zachary says.

"When I moved here 25 years ago, there were about 100,000 people in a 25-30 mile radius. Now there are 250,000," he says.

While the council aspires to look to the future, Barclay says, "Right now it is necessary to take the resources we have and meet the immediate needs."

The council's roster of 62 members includes many of the most recognized business figures in the region, including J.B. Hunt, Frank Broyles, Don Tyson and Alice Walton. Uvalde Lindsey of Ozark International Consultants is executive director of the council.

Council committees concentrate on infrastructure, "human infrastructure," education and "quality of life."

Ozark Consultants provides staff services for the council, as well as for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority and the Rural Development Authority.
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Title Annotation:Northwest Arkansas
Author:Shurlds, Katherine
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 18, 1993
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