Amazon is looking for a second headquarters and has specifically listed requirements for that desired location. In Northwest Arkansas, we have world-class talent in retail operations, global supply chain, consumer technology, transportation, decision support/artificial intelligence and product development. And we need more talent—significantly more—to fuel our desired growth.

The region is understandably proud of its accomplishments—after all, three of the nation’s largest companies are headquartered here, the average wage continues to inch upwards and unemployment is at an all-time low.

We cannot become complacent.

Make no mistake: our region is in a “fight for future talent,” and I believe while trending upward, it’s falling behind other competing communities.

Research shows:

  • There is shortage of knowledge workers—engineers, technologists, scientists, data scientists—and that shortage will only increase as we advance into the digital economy.
  • Young people with these knowledge skills will be and already are, very selective about where they want to live and work—taking into consideration factors including the quality of life, the number of job opportunities available and the makeup of their communities.
  • Young people will continue to consolidate in communities that meet their demands—there will be winners and losers. We are already seeing talent migration, and it will continue.
  • Entrepreneurship and innovation fuel new job creation and feed the professional needs of many of these young knowledge workers. They are looking for opportunities to invest their lives in efforts that have meaningful impact, are intellectually stimulating and are fun.

As stakeholders in our Northwest Arkansas region—from Fayetteville to Bentonville—we must align on a broad, aggressive vision of what we can and must become. We must find more meaningful ways to network our resources, to collaborate on common opportunities, and to truly join an emerging, powerful global startup ecosystem.

Responding to the Amazon request—while probably futile—would be a very meaningful exercise to begin to build a process to continuously and more effectively compete for scarce talent. It would help us address our fragmented economic development and talent attraction/retention efforts. It would show us the necessary gaps in our ecosystem that must be filled.

We have great talent, great companies and great communities—but we must continue to be focused on growth and diversification. We must create a process that links the communities across the region that effectively positions us to compete and win.