Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

What is a CEDS?

The Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District (NWAEDD or the District) is an economic development district designated by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). As the region’s economic development district, it is responsible for developing a comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) that identifies economic and community development priorities for the District.

The District is composed of all the county governments and incorporated municipalities within the counties of Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Newton, Searcy, and Washington Counties. This CEDS plan follows the new guidelines released by the US Economic Development Administration in September of 2016 and is a strategy-driven plan developed by a diverse workgroup of local representatives from the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

The District’s CEDS is composed of four sections:

 Summary background of the economic conditions of the region.

In-depth SWOT analysis of regional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

Action Plan outlining strategies drawn from the planning process that incorporates elements from other applicable regional plans

Evaluation framework to develop and monitor performance measures incorporated in the plan.

The District’s CEDS committee will work to create a strong relationship between action plans and performance measures for economic and community development at the regional, state, and federal levels.

Beginning in March of 2018, the CEDS committee met monthly until mid-October to complete the plan. Three public meetings were held in August to review a draft of the committee’s work with county judges, majors and other identified regional partners

Download the 2019-2023
Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy report (PDF format)

Summary Background 

The regional and county profiles highlight the demographic and economic statistics of the region. As the data shows, tourism, (retail, accommodation and food services combined) government services, manufacturing, and healthcare are the leading employers, with healthcare projected as the leading growth industry. To support these businesses and develop a broader foundation in other industries such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, and professional services, it is essential that local governments in the region continue to collaborate on essential services such as the built infrastructure, broadband, and housing.

The region is experiencing remarkable population growth. From 1990 to 2017, the number of residents nearly doubled and the region’s population should surpass 700,000 by 2027. The economically booming counties of Washington and Benton contain almost 70% of the population of the region and experienced double-digit growth from 2010 to 2017. Three counties experienced low to moderate growth ranging from 1.3 to 4.0% and the remaining 4 counties lost population.

From 2010 to 2017, the fastest growing age group in the region was residents over 65. This reflects the region’s attraction as a retirement destination. It also requires planning and strategic investment to address the needs of an aging population including additional transportation options, infrastructure improvements and access to affordable healthcare particularly in less affluent counties.


Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats


  • K–12 Schools*
  • Job Growth*
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Highway 412 Plan
  • Agricultural Resources
  • Recreational Opportunities
  • Opportunities for young people*
  • Broadband Access*
  • Natural Beauty
  • Low Crime
  • Tourism
  • Stakeholder Collaboration
  • Utilities
  • Access to quality healthcare*


  • Broadband Access*
  • Job Growth*
  • Higher Education Coverage
  • Buffalo River Watershed
  • Access to Quality Healthcare*
  • Skilled Workforce
  • Agriculture Workforce Training
  • Workforce Housing*
  • Well-paying jobs


  • Mass Transit
  • Improving Broadband in Rural Areas
  • Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Small Counties
  • Infrastructure Improvements
  • Regional Collaboration
  • Workforce Training
  • Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Small Counties
  • Innovative Approaches to Agriculture Industry
  • Bike & Pedestrian Trail Expansions


  • Keeping Up with Growth
  • Population Decline in Rural Areas
  • Lack of Employment Opportunities
  • Losing Educated Workers\
  • Housing Options
  • Lack of Mass Transit
  • Lack of Affordable Air Travel
  • Lack of Broadband