Visit Page
Skip to content

Episode 121: Wes Craiglow and the Urban Land Institute Are Helping to Plan the Future of Northwest Arkansas

Spread the Ozark love

Wes Craiglow and Randy Wilburn

Randy Wilburn [3:28] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am northwest Arkansas. I'm your host Randy Wilburn and guys, listen, I'm really excited right now. And before I introduce you to my guest today, I am sitting back in a study room at the Fayetteville Public Library. This is huge for me, and for those of you that have been listening to the podcast since the beginning, the Fayetteville Public Library was like a second home for me. It's where I did a lot of my recordings, so I will come back to doing recordings here in the study rooms. They also have a podcasting room that I'm going to start using, but Kathy and the rest of the ladies at the reference desk on the second floor are amazing. They're genuine people. They know everything about this place and if you haven't been to the library, you need to come to check it out. I think it's one of the crowning jewels of Northwest Arkansas, not just Fayetteville, but all of this area. When I tell people when they come to visit, I say I'm taking you to a few places. Crystal Bridges, maybe we'll go to The Momentary. I'm going to take you on the bike trail through the University of Arkansas for a quick tour, but I'm also going to take you to our library. And people give me these funny looks, but then after I take them to the library, it's like, oh my, game over. Anyway, I'm back in the library, folks, so I'm excited like Jack Nicholson in The Shining...I'm back. Anyway, today, I have got a phenomenal guest with me. Wes Craiglow runs the Urban Land Institute (ULI) office here in Northwest Arkansas, ULI for the uninitiated. I'm going to let him talk about it, but it's an organization that I've been familiar with for years. They're all over the world, but they saw a need to have a location right here in Northwest Arkansas to deal with the growth in a positive way, meaning with foresight, thought, action, and clarity in terms of what we want this area to be like in the next 10, 15, 20, 30 years when we get to a million people in this general census area. So, without further ado, Wes Craiglow, how are you doing?

Wes Craiglow [5:41] I'm doing well, Randy. Thank you for having me. I'm very excited about this.

Randy Wilburn [5:45] I am too. It's been a long time coming. We were supposed to meet last week, but things didn't work out and we're here now and I'm excited because you've got a bunch of events coming up that we're going to talk about on the podcast. But more importantly, I want to introduce you to our audience. I would love for you to give our audience your quick superhero origin story. How did you end up in Northwest Arkansas, working with the Urban Land Institute?

Wes Craiglow [6:09] I will be as quick as I can. My background is in Municipal Planning. So for most of my professional career, I've been working in long-range planning and the zoning entitlement process called current planning down at the city of Conway. I was there when Conway was just exploding in growth. That lent me wonderful opportunities to develop myself as a land-use professional and make really great relationships with the real estate development community along the way. I saw myself as a partner to the development of Conway’s growth and, in particular, the built environment of the city of Conway. What forms our built environment took, and the impact that built environment on our residents. Maybe from the economic point of view, or the social and cultural point of view, public health points of view, and the list goes on. I really fell in love with this work. Graduate school helped me along the way. Professional certifications and other institutional training along the way, and I just really poured my soul into this work as I believed the intersection between the built environment and human behavior, and ultimately, the quality of our communities. And then, a couple of years ago, the phone rang and I was notified of an opportunity that ULI was going to start a chapter, what we in the ULI world called District Councils. The 53rd District Council in the United States was nascent but happening, and an opportunity presented itself for me to apply for an interview for this job and it worked out. So here I am two years later, running still the newest chapter in North America, Fayetteville.

Randy Wilburn [8:02] How big is the 53rd District?

Wes Craiglow [8:05] So, we're focused on Northwest Arkansas. The ULI and Northwest Arkansas District Council primarily focus on the two-county areas in Washington and Benton Counties in all of the growth along the 49 corridor. But as necessary, I think we could reach a modest distance beyond that to support any other communities in need. Okay, all right,

Randy Wilburn [8:26] So, how do you compare the growth that's happening here in Northwest Arkansas to say like Conway? What do you experience there?

Wes Craiglow [8:36] It's different in a couple of ways. And I will start by saying it is higher in terms of volume per capita volume and growth. This is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas under a million in the country. I think we all feel like we blinked in the landscape here in Northwest Arkansas changes. I'm not suggesting that Conway was not a fast-growing city; it was very much so over the last 20 years. But I don't know that many markets in the country are comparable to the volume of growth we see here in the Northwest Arkansas market. And that is a pressing reason why ULI desired a footprint here, and that's why so many real estate community professionals here in Northwest Arkansas wanted ULI here in Northwest Arkansas, so it was a joint effort. I think this is the perfect organization for a market like this. The other thing I will say about the differences between my path, my background, and Central Arkansas, which I consider my new and permanent home here in Northwest Arkansas, is regionalism. People ask a lot of times what's the difference between Central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas, and far for me to try to describe them all. But, if someone studies his profession in this field, who understands economic development, community development, city planning, real estate development, I can attest that I don't know of many places with the regional spirit changed in Northwest Arkansas. And what do I mean by that? When it comes time for county and municipal governments, the private sector and non-profit advocacy groups to come together and collaborate on topics of regional importance, to work together as a collective, Northwest Arkansas does it better than anywhere, and we were challenged sometimes in Central Arkansas to work together as a unified region. We would often find ourselves discouraged on certain, what we felt were regional initiatives, maybe regarding transportation, for example, that we felt could only be successful if everybody got along and agreed on them. It was more of a challenge in the Central Arkansas market than it is here, and I think that's one of the most exciting things about doing work like ULI here in Northwest Arkansas because everybody sees us as, if it's good for one, it's good for all. We are growing as a region and that's how business sees us. In many ways, there aren't government boundaries. We just flow across those government boundaries and ULI, I think, will be a powerful resource for helping to bring a lot of people around the table collectively.

Randy Wilburn [11:23] What I hear you saying and I think it's important to repeat this for the uninitiated that is not from this area, maybe thinking about relocating here, maybe thinking about bringing business here, is that everybody plays nice in the sandbox. I think it’s the easiest way to say it.

Wes Craiglow [11:40] There is nowhere else I have experienced this. It’s incredible.

Randy Wilburn [11:41] I mean across cities, it doesn't matter. Fayetteville is looking out for Springdale, Springdale is looking out for Rogers and Rogers is looking out for Bentonville, and Bentonville got Bella Vista’s back, and vice versa. I think that's really a nice thing and that's something that I've experienced since I've been here. It's hard to articulate it and I don't know what it is about it, but there's just a lot of opportunity for things to happen. Even Fayetteville is doing some affordable housing and now it's spilling out and you're starting to see talk about affordable housing being built in other cities. And I think that's really interesting. So, what would you say is your primary mandate since you've been here to help get off the ground. I know you can't focus on everything at once, so it's like following one course until success. If that were the case right now for what you're doing and you're a military man and you served in the guard, thank you for your service, but you understand that. What is your focus right now?

Wes Craiglow [12:50] Good question. And can I give a bit of our mission for folks who may be not familiar, and then I want to make sure I answer that question. So, the Urban Land Institute is a global non-profit organization, as you mentioned. We have 53 offices here in North America and offices in Australia, Asia, and Europe. We've been around since 1936, so, celebrating our 80th birthday this year. We began as a professional association of a small group of real estate developers. Over the decades, we have flourished into a membership association with almost 50,000 members worldwide. You heard me mention all of the various global offices that we have. We also have Research Centers now within Washington DC that work with the private sector community to analyze what's going on in the real estate development community, and publish research about the emerging trends and best practices that are available to the development community. About 80% of our current membership is the private sector community, primarily made up of developers, but right on the share of the pie that developers own are our lenders and the debt and equity community, financial investors, designers, architects and engineers, the two largest of those). The list goes on right down to commercial title companies and real estate law, but the private sector does make up the largest share of ULI membership and partners. The other 20% will be local government, academia, non-profiteers, two years, people who were also deeply invested in the built environment and ensuring that their communities grow in the wisest possible way. That brings me to the mission of you, ULI. The mission is simply to transform communities for the greatest impact possible. ULI, as a member network, attempts to leverage the brain trust that is our members, many dozens of them here in Northwest Arkansas, many 10s of 1000s around the world, and collectively share ideas and come up with solutions to challenges and opportunities that face communities throughout America and lay that talent. Lay that talent out in the public sphere to influence change, whether on the private practice side and development patterns or the public practice side in policies that entitle the built environment. The zoning ordinances, the land-use plans, the master street plans, parks plans, and the list goes on. Our mission, simply put, is to improve the built environment for transformative impact throughout the world. So what are we working on here in Northwest Arkansas? I think it's safe to say that housing and transportation are at the top of the list. I put them together on purpose. H plus T is the buzz phrase in the industry right now because they are inexorably intertwined. You can't have housing costs without transportation costs impacting and vice versa. So what do I mean by that, we can drive until we can afford it, and that's how it's going right now in America with housing costs on the rise. And so, what we see here in Northwest Arkansas and coast to coast is largely historically agricultural land on the periphery of major metropolitan areas that rapidly developed with single-family homes and large scale apartment complexes because that's where cheap land can be acquired. It makes sense from a dollar and cents point of view, but the average Northwest Arkansan is spending 9,100 and change per year on transportation costs, and those transportation costs are associated directly with their housing costs. So, we may buy ourselves some cheaper housing. Still, if we're constantly updating our car or buying an extra car or additional fuel, additional maintenance and the list goes on, all we're doing in many cases in America and Northwest Arkansas. is trading housing for transportation. The relationships work in the inverse too. So the more hyperlocal we can create our lives to be by putting residential areas near service and employment areas, we cut down on people's need to be in their car as often, and we directly impact users from their family transportation costs. Secondary and tertiary impacts are grand because we can cut down on traffic and widen streets and idling cars spitting out pollution. The list goes on and on the secondary and tertiary positive impacts. So housing and transportation are connected. They cannot be disconnected, and I think, just like most of America, that is the number one priority for organizations like ULI because costs are just dramatically skyrocketing for housing and transportation right now.

Randy Wilburn [17:57] It's absolutely insane. I sold a house this time last year and we put it on the market pretty quickly and got an offer within a day or two. There was a bit of competition. I've talked to people that have put their houses on the market recently, and at the time of our recording this May of 2021, it's insane. I keep wondering when does the other shoe drop or how do we deal with this, or is it going to come to a point where there's a market correction or some type of event that slows down this bull in a china shop when it comes to real estate growth in home prices increasing.

Wes Craiglow [18:45] That's the question everyone's trying to answer right now. I will say that we have a supply and demand challenge. It is acute here in Northwest Arkansas. There are supply and challenges with the overall production on the number of dwelling units delivered to the landscape here in Northwest Arkansas related to the number of people needing dwelling units. We are at a deficit currently, not a huge deficit. I did some back-of-the-envelope math a couple of weeks ago and, based on what I'm getting from Mervyn and his team at the CBR on their Skyland report, it looks like we're maybe 2%, 3%, somewhere in that range, under-delivering on supply- that doesn't sound like much. We are delivering to market two or 3% fewer homes than people want to buy, and you might think that's no big deal, but relative to the number of people moving here each year, that is, dozens potentially hundreds of families that are unavailable to find a home. That is a significant problem and it has a dramatic impact on demand, which in turn drives up prices and that's where we're getting our bidding war. It goes much deeper, more fundamental challenges right now with the housing market. I think we have a challenge with getting material. The labor market is tight right now. The Fed is making money easy to get. Interest rates are very competitive right now, and stimulus checks are virtually in everyone's hands. The demand is through the roof right now. To your point about will the market correct, I've read a lot of research, just things to my job, and by no means an analyst myself, I am not an economist, but the research that I read leads me to believe, Randy, that we will not see a major correction in this market. This is not a bubble, like 2008, 2009, but we may see a leveling off in the coming years, and it will not come too soon because Northwest Arkansas is growing right now. Our median home sale value is growing at about 10% per year, every year for the last four years, and that is unsustainable growth. Now, if you're a realtor or even a homeowner like myself, you look at your equity or your sale value and you're like, this is great, I’m making some equity and realtors are returning a good commission; that's how the economy goes. The challenge that I have is the ability for people to afford homes. To me, I put that on the priority to even the growth of my home equity, as satisfying as it is to see that home value going up. I know that with 10%, year over year increased my home value, and all that means to me is that more and more people who want to make Northwest Arkansas home cannot. And so, what I want to see instead of a major correction which frankly I don't think is coming, I just want to see a slowing of the rate of increase. I would love to see it come back down somewhere closer to the standard rise of the Consumer Price Index, commonly referred to as inflation. So home value increases by 3%, I believe a healthy economy should be 10%. There's no way wages will keep up with that over the long term, and that will become a threat to us in Northwest Arkansas. One of our competitive advantages, Randy, is housing affordability. It has been for a very long time, as we compete for talent against markets like Denver, Nashville, Austin, Atlanta, and for sure the coasts. We can hold out that care of having an incredible place to raise a family, live and start and do business, and get a cheap house, and we're losing that competitive advantage and will harm us all, I believe.

Randy Wilburn [22:45] Quickly, as I might add, because when I came here in 2014, I thought I could buy two houses. That's right, two over there or two over there, but now I'm like, can I get one. I own a home, but if I wanted to buy something else and my wife and I've been thinking about it, but we're like, it's tight. You have to figure out how you can do it. The land is more expensive now; it’s several factors. When you consider the Walmart effect, the JB Hunt effect, the Tyson effect, all of these great fortune 50 companies are trying to attract new talent to the area, and most of these new talents will need a place to live. So I think those are the things that we have to think about as we continue to grow.

Wes Craiglow [23:25] If we lose our competitive advantage, it's going to threaten our broader economy. There are great jobs in other markets. What attracts people here is the quality of place in Northwest Arkansas and affordability and so what ULI wants to do is find a piece of that puzzle. What piece can ULI effect for the positive on the supply side and go deep on that, and bring a brain trust of the smartest people in the room, nationwide and also our leaders here in Northwest Arkansas to descend on that piece of the puzzle and at least attempt to solve it? So when I talk about slowing the growth rate from 10% per year on the housing price increase to closer, let's get it down to eight or six, or four. I believe that ULI has a role in helping that happen. I mentioned many other role players; it’s a complex puzzle, but I'm really excited about what we can do as a network and as an organization for change.

Randy Wilburn [24:27] So tell me this because this was an interesting thing when I came here from Boston. Of course, in Boston, I understand what higher density living is like; we know. We have triple-deckers and multi-families like that; it's on a whole different level. You're living on top of multiple people, but how do we sell those higher-density developments. When I think about what is available land, there's not a lot of public land in the main trunk of Northwest Arkansas. I'm thinking between 265 and 49, north and south, that main trunk area. There's not a ton of land in that area.

Wes Craiglow [25:06] I bet there's half. I will bet you right now there's are GIS techs listening to this that works for the Regional Planning Commission, the counties, or the cities up and down the corridor, who were probably screaming into their speakers because you would be shocked at how much available real estate fallow vacant land that is ready to be developed. What we call infill if it's going in existing areas, whether it's to the heart of downtown or the peripheral edge of your city limits. We just colloquially refer to that as infill. So I bet you, and I'm just taking a bold stab out of here, Randy. I bet we're only half-developed in the currently annexed government boundaries of the major cities up and down the corridor.

Randy Wilburn [25:56] And that's really where it boils down to smart development and smart growth. That's where you come in, and that's where the program that Keaton Smith is working on. He's been on the podcast. So many people see that, and even to myself, I thought I would love to build a place. When you live in New England, they're not building any more land, so your only option is to go up. I said if we built another place, I'd say it'd be nice to build a duplex. Would I have a better shot at building that than building a single-family just because I could probably use the same space and build a really nice duplex and make it really nice and introduce that to the market? But, people come here, oh I want land, I want space, and that's the challenge. How do you bridge that gap there?

Wes Craiglow [26:51] It’s tough and I don't have any other word for it. It's hard work. We have in this country for three or four generations rewarded single-family homeownership from a deep emotional level associated with the manifest destiny of the frontier West and the United States in the Homestead Act where everybody gets like 40 acres and a mule, I think was the old saying. There is something deep-seated emotionally connecting to Americans about that image of a piece of land and the ability to deliver on the fruits of your labor. I think that image of the man that homesteader manifests destiny of expansionism connects directly to the suburban lifestyle. Most of us don't have a mule in our backyard. I live in the suburbs, frankly. I live over at the base of Sequoia near Root Elementary. I've got a little house in the suburbs, and I love it. There's something about it that feels when I walk into a backyard, a private space; it feels a little bit like I've got my piece of the prairie, or the woods or whatever. I think that attraction that connection is really deep in America, and it is hard to break from. I think when you connect it to the reward of homeownership and equity and recognizing that the vast majority of Americans’ greatest source of wealth is the equity in their home, it gets even harder to break away from. That's not lost on me. I'm a self-professed urbanist myself. I no longer live in the heart of downtown. I can't afford it, and we can come back and revisit that. But I live as close as I can to the services and amenities like parks and schools and downtown that I can afford to. And I get it. I’m attached and I empathize with that manifest destiny spirit of having a little piece of land, having my little homestead. I can garden and let my dog run around and play in the backyard with my kids and have a lot of my wealth wrapped up in home equity. How do we get away from that? It's taken 100 years, and it will take another 100 years before we see dramatic change- first things first. I just believe that we've spent a long time creating this America, this primary car dependent suburban oriented post-war era America on the better part of 100 years, and it's going to take the better part of 100 years of organizations like ULI partnering with the other community members who get it to turn this ship around. It's going to be the long game, but ultimately that answers. There is no quick solution. This is a hard problem to solve and, and it's going to be done very incrementally, I believe.

Randy Wilburn [30:02] It's going to be interesting too. I was watching a video this weekend about the grain of our population and how people are getting older, and they need those support systems. You think about how important community is from that vantage point. One of the things I didn't realize about Northwest Arkansas was that this is a haven for retirees because you have the best of both worlds. You have pretty good weather, and you can grow a lot of things here. There are many benefits to being in this area, and you're five hours to Dallas, three hours to Kansas City, an hour and a half to Tulsa, so you're in the middle of a lot of things. It will be interesting to see how this area continues to evolve from that perspective because I believe it will be important for our society, as we see people get older, live longer, they're going to be around, so that means you have to create a community for everybody, not just the young whippersnappers.

Wes Craiglow [31:13] You might be surprised to learn that the AARP is probably one of the national leaders. Surprisingly, one of the national leaders on changing the way we build the landscapes in North America because they see the value as people age out of their suburban lifestyles and suburban homes that were frankly warranted for many reasons raising kids and the like. But as they age out of those, they don't need three and four bedrooms nor a quarter or a half-acre to maintain. They can decide how to downsize and simplify their lives to invest their time, energy, money, and other things; it’s a part of the community. So we get back to the built environment fundamentals of things like infill development and mixed-use development, walkable communities, safe streets, a broad mix of the things that we seek. Maybe it's the community center, or perhaps it's a medical care or a parking space and trails or other people in that demographic. We see it with the younger audience in the heart of our downtown’s and what we see is the empty nesters coming back there for the same reasons. Our loan system is fundamentally set up for single-family and duplex residential. Our building code system as well. We are codified in how we seek lending for the homes we possess and the type of homes developers can deliver due to the regulatory environment. We have absolutely cannibalized ourselves primarily to the single-family residential environments and will take a long time to reorganize ourselves.

Randy Wilburn [33:10] A part of your mission is transportation, and we talked earlier about the whole bike movement and how our green space here is pretty amazing, and that's just mildly putting it that way. You talked about you and your son were out on it this past weekend. I get out on it all the time. What are your hopes in ensuring that we continue to push to connect these cities on a broader case than where we are now? We have a thick trunk of the Greenway that pretty much goes right up the middle of this area, and I've noticed as I work up in Rogers that some tees off of the Greenway are connecting. What would you like to see here to create a level of interconnectedness that we don't quite have just yet?

Wes Craiglow [34:08] That's a great and complex question. The first word that comes to my mind is equity. I get the sense that there are a lot of people in every community in Northwest Arkansas and America who need access to alternate methods of transportation. They don't own a car, Randy. They depend on getting rides from others or rely on absorbing the cost of an Uber or a taxi or walking or riding their bike. It is not by choice; it’s not like they are the urban commuters who choose to throw on a messenger bag on a hip, $2500 ebike and zip across town to work. I was on Facebook this morning on a Facebook community and someone was looking for a free bike that they could donate to a friend of theirs in need. It is real, and it is pressing. There are community members who don't necessarily participate in the bike culture here by choice. They participate in the bike culture here by need, and that should be, I believe, our priority. I think every city should dedicate 10% of its transportation budget to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure if we're going to spend $10 million this year on transportation infrastructure. In that case, we should commit to putting a healthy share of a million dollars a year in a city of 52,100,000, which would dramatically impact cycling pedestrian infrastructure. If your city is not there, you should press them to get there. Ten percent is not asking too much for mandatory modes of transportation like walking. We all do these things. But those who need it most deserve equity and access. They deserve to get to work. They deserve to see their kids and have their kids see their friends. They deserve to be as participatory in the landscape as any middle-income and above American, yet they're not because we don't build transportation infrastructure for them. And as much as I love quality recreation transportation infrastructure, I use it all the time. We live on our bikes, and we love it. I think it’s part of the reason we will never leave Northwest Arkansas. We are consumers and we hold it, dear. I want everybody to have that same level of access and I don't see it yet, and so that is the word equity and access to transportation, to put a phrase on it. It's about ensuring that everybody can get from point A to point B across Northwest Arkansas at the method of either by their choosing or their need, and we're not there right now and won't get there until we start spending more money. The cities have to do better. Private development does too. Every single private developer that's developing the back 40 into a bunch of single-family homes, apartment developer every corporate park, office tower developer, and shopping center developers. Maybe I give some grace to the industrial parks that are on the edge of town. Some areas may or may not get the demand, but the private sector is not getting off the hook.

Randy Wilburn [37:38] For every quarter-mile trail for each door you put up, right?

Wes Craiglow [37:41] I don't have the answers there; that’s where I count on the network, the brain trust. I want to bring people together to talk about how to get this done, and it will be different in a city like Fayetteville than it would be n a city like Rogers. Rogers will do something other than Cave Springs or Elm Springs. Every city and every private developer can decide for themselves how to get it done. What I'm suggesting is, do it.

Randy Wilburn [38:03] We talked earlier about BikeNWA, a great organization that tries to bring a lot of this together. I also had the folks from Arkansas Latinas en Bici, who saw that many women who looked like them didn't have access to bikes and were making that happen. I've also spoken to the folks at Pedal It Forward NWA, so maybe that person who you mentioned that doesn't have a bike can go to them and get a bike because I know they have.

Wes Craiglow [38:35] Pedal It Forward was tagged in the comments this morning. Keep up the great work.

Randy Wilburn [38:38] Kenny and his team are doing a good job over there. Paxton and the folks at Bike NWA are doing some amazing work, and there's a lot of opportunity for growth in that area.

Wes Craiglow [38:53] And it goes beyond cycling too. I'm a huge fan of cycling and walking; walking is superior. I would be remiss if I failed to mention folks in wheelchairs or other Handi capable among us. They have their methods that demand transportation equity as well, and I want to make sure that they're included in my dialogue here. Fundamentally what I mean is if you're powering through your day using your body in one method or another, you should get priority. Maybe not priority in terms of total volume dollar spent, but you should absolutely have a priority share of investment and attention. All of us powering through our bodies or our days using our physical power is nothing special to anybody; it’s part of us. The automobile we built in America, I don't have to say, we're going to keep spending money on automobiles. We are, and I think we should. I’m an all of the above kind of guy, I just think, maybe a modest share, especially if we change the way we do the built environment. What I do want to get to here, Randy is mass transit. I don't know many places that are well-positioned for rapid bus transit and local bus networks as the Northwest Arkansas corridor. We run north and south, and most of our cities here are old enough, especially in the downtowns, to have grid streets pattern. And that's conducive to local bus and corridors like 265, 1, 49, 112, out West, the north-south corridors are well suited for bus rapid transit. So the ability for people to ride a bike or even drive to a collector lot then grab a local bus. The local bus then gets you to a transition lot; the transition gets you BRT, Bus Rapid Transit, which behaves more like a train- longer legs, faster spaces, and potentially some prioritization during rush hour on 49. There are lots of ways to skin that cat, but ultimately a well-integrated system of mass transit. I think rail is out there on the horizon somewhere, but it is way expensive, and I think that's what keeps it on the horizon for most markets our size. But there's no reason we shouldn't be doing local bus service and bus rapid regional transit, up and down the corridor at a much higher volume. Just to plug for those Ozark regional transit team, they got a new master plan for him, Joe Gardner, and his guys. I encourage all the city leaders to look at what Ozark regional transits come up with because I think it's an excellent solution for the near term.

Randy Wilburn [41:37] I do too. I'm in their Facebook Group. I will put a link to that in the Show Notes, so people know how to connect with those folks. I think it's interesting, though, and I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are. Even with this idea that maybe we're a little far off from even considering some type of light rail option, how do you connect the dots when you know there will be continued building in the meantime, so by the time we do decide to do it then we're like, where we're going to put this. That's always the challenge. I think about Boston that has one of the oldest subway networks in the country, in the world for that matter, and that thing's been around forever, and it was there before they were cars, so how do you reconcile that?

Wes Craiglow [42:24] I think about Boston and look at what they've done over the last 20 years with the Big Dig. You've got to figure out how to shoehorn the expansion of mass transit into an effectively entirely built environment.

Randy Wilburn [42:39] I survived the big dig, I got the T-shirt to prove it, but it was a nightmare, dealing with it. They’re saying, well, maybe we underestimated the real need, we could have done even more, and it's nice, don't get me wrong, but I remember the pain it took to expand things.

Wes Craiglow [43:04] I think we have a huge opportunity here in Northwest Arkansas, right now, Randy, and that is our youth. I know a lot of people who have been in Northwest Arkansas for generations, their entire lives and beyond, are rolling their eyes when they hear this newcomer named Wes talking about the youth of Northwest Arkansas. I get it; it’s not lost on me. There was a time when these were just small quaint communities, maybe except for Fayetteville, but considering all of the explosive growth over the last 20 or 30 years in Northwest Arkansas, we recognize we are a half million people in the metropolitan area. We are going to double in our lifetimes, Randy. The Regional Planning Commission has projections that put us to a million by the year 2050, which is double. And so we are really at a wonderful moment. As built as it is, there is still a lot of room to think about the future. We are by no means done. And so, what does that look like? It seems like organizations like ULI and probably other major organizations like the Regional Planning Commission they've always got a keen eye for transportation; it’s probably the highest priority of their mandates. The Northwest Arkansas Council, obviously regional, focuses on economic development and other pressing needs. I think organizations like us can work within organizations like city governments and county governments to develop the easements necessary to support that future growth. It’s not too dissimilar to what happened when 49 was built or when the Razorback Greenway was built; people worked together collectively. They had a shared vision, and they each bit their piece of it off, and eventually everybody came along, and we've got those regional features. But ultimately, those arterials were created, and it can be done, whether it's a special lane for a bus rapid transit, a system on I49, or securing space for rail, which frankly we already had some rail space. A lot of old rail lines out there. Some are still current, just moving freight. It's not uncommon to see passenger trains sharing the line with freight. There are many ways to get there, and we still have vacant land and opportunities to establish those easements, such that when the money and the time are right, you know we can begin construction.

Randy Wilburn [45:37] Well, I am encouraged just hearing you talk about it. If you feel good about this and you got your sleeves rolled up and you're in this deep every day, so I'm encouraged to hear you say that. I remember people telling me back when, before the Bobby Hopper Tunnel getting up here, it was like an all-day affair. Now people just don't realize how good you have it because it's just a quick jump. I go down to Little Rock all the time with my son for soccer and you can appreciate that and that's just an example of what good development looks like.

Wes Craiglow [46:13] Imagine being able to say that same thing about a trip if you’re a fan of the Razorbacks and you want to come down to Baum stadium watching baseball, but you live up in Bentonville and game time is right after work. You just want to hop on a train or hop on a BRT real fast. You zip from Bentonville to Fayetteville, catch the game and then turn around and get home, and maybe while you're at the game, you have a couple of beers, and that BRT can support a lifestyle and a culture in such a meaningful way. It can enhance everything that's already great about Northwest Arkansas to the point where the same way you're bragging about the Bobby Hopper Tunnel and the ease at which I49 permits access between here and Little Rock, we can be in 10 or 15 years talking the same way about an integrated bus system in Northwest Arkansas, that just makes life here, so much easier. Why do we wait so long to do this, those conversations start today, and I'm looking forward to ULI hosting a lot of them.

Randy Wilburn [47:10] Oh, that's good. Well, we're certainly excited and glad that you're here, and we appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to come on the podcast and have this conversation; it's important. I've been involved with Onward Ozarks, the Northwest Arkansas Council, and just a lot of regional talk about how we continue to improve, and you're in the thick of it. So, Wes Craiglow, thank you so much. If anybody wants to reach you, what's the best way for them to connect with you?

Wes Craiglow [47:33] You can find me on our website, and just head to the contact page on our website and you can find me. You can also find us and information about our events throughout the region and the content and services that we provide on our social media pages- Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. So just give us a search there, ULI NWA, and I think that's probably the fastest, easiest way to connect.

Randy Wilburn [48:03] We will put all of that in the Show Notes, so people have access to that, and again we appreciate it. I just want you to plug in an upcoming event that will happen after the release of this podcast episode, so people listening to this prior to the date of this event,

Wes Craiglow [48:18] May 29, so if you're listening after May 29, go by our website, check us out on social media, find out what the next big thing coming up is. But for those of you who will listen to this prior to May 29, we would love to invite you to the Better City Film Festival hosted by ULI, Northwest Arkansas, in the city of Rogers. We will be the first main event for the first real event at the new Butterfield stage in Rogers downtown Railyard Park. We're super excited about it. It's going to be about three to four hours’ worth of film screenings; all mostly micro-documentaries about ways to make your city gets you passionate get you inspired. Connect with other people in a casual Saturday afternoon setting. Board at 8 pm downtown Rogers, Butterfield stage Better City Film Festival find information on our website.

Randy Wilburn [49:07] Last but not least when you're not solving the major problems in Northwest Arkansas, what do you do to unwind or relax. I know you said you like to ride the trails with your son. For somebody who may be listening to this, that's thinking about moving here in Northwest Arkansas, what would be the one thing you would say to them why they should consider this area. We already made a case for it in this conversation, but what would you say?

Wes Craiglow [49:33] Fly fishing. I’m an avid fly fisherman, Randy and I look around at the access we have to rivers here to what we often call home waters. I've been here two and a half years and still can't decide which is my home water. We've got trout fishing below Beaver Dam over to the white-blue Bull Shoals; it's amazing. Smallmouth is crazy right now. We got Illinois River, Kings River, War Eagle Creek, Crooked Creek the white. I spend a lot of time standing in need to waist-deep water casting, throwing flies at anything that swims, and we are super-duper blessed here in Northwest Arkansas to have such incredible water nearby.

Randy Wilburn [50:10] I love that, and if you're breaking bread and you want to take somebody out to eat. I know this is difficult.

Wes Craiglow [50:16] My backyard, and I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it is my favorite place to hang. If anybody wants to hang come on over, I would love to talk about making cities better. I will do the cooking. Let's have a cold drink, sit on the back patio and just get to know one another. It’s my favorite way to hang out. I can't begin to name a favorite restaurant because there are like 100 of them.

Randy Wilburn [50:38] I know it's hard, right. Every time I ask that question, people are like, oh, you're putting me on the spot. It’s hard for me to answer because I have many friends who are chefs, so I don't know any one person, so it's all good.

Wes Craiglow [50:49] It's tough. We're very blessed.

Randy Wilburn [50:52] We are. So Wes Craiglow, thank you so much, Urban Land Institute. You guys keep doing amazing things. Thank you for the work that you're doing here in Northwest Arkansas. Keep it up, and we'll ensure that they'll have easy access to contact you through our Show Notes if people need to reach you.

Wes Craiglow [51:07] Thank you so much, Randy. You keep up the great work. I'm a huge fan, and I look forward to all the releases of years to come.

Randy Wilburn [51:14] Thank you so much. Well, folks, that's another episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. To learn more about us or read or download the Show Notes from today's episode, visit You can listen to this podcast and sign up for our free newsletter to keep up with us and all things NWA. So make sure you sign up today. You can also subscribe to the I am northwest Arkansas podcast, wherever you listen to it, and please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple Podcasts. And remember, folks, our podcast comes out every Monday, rain or shine. I'm your host Randy Wilburn, and we will see you back here next week for a new episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. Peace.

About the Show:                          

We recently sat down with Wes Craiglow from the Urban Land Institute (ULI NWA). Wes is leading ULI’s effort to help Northwest Arkansas grow smart and not just big for the sake of being big. According to Wes, Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest-growing metro areas under one million people in the United States.  

ULI is a nonprofit created in 1936 to help communities transform for the most significant impact possible. The organization comprises Real Estate Developers, Lenders, Planners, Design Professionals, Title professionals, and community stakeholders. They focus on municipal planning, real estate planning, and economic, Social, and Health planning to ensure that an area grows with a measured and calculated approach. 

According to Wes, even though we may have some housing issues due to the hot real estate market when this episode came out, we are far from using up all of the real estate space available in both Washington and Benton Counties. 

With leaders like Wes Craiglow here in Northwest Arkansas, we should be in good hands as we continue to witness an explosion of growth here in the Ozarks. Please reach out to Wes with any suggestions or ideas about the place you call home. He is more than happy to connect with you and share your opinions with a larger audience. 

Wow! I can’t believe we will be almost a Million people by 2050. 

All this and more on this I am Northwest Arkansas episode.

Important Links and Mentions on the Show*:

ULI Northwest Arkansas

PO Box 11232

Fayetteville, AR 72703

Wes Craiglow email

ULI Northwest Arkansas Website

ULI NWA on Instagram

ULI NWA on Facebook

This episode is sponsored by*:


May is National Bike Month! Celebrate alongside BikeNWA as they host weekly and overall challenges throughout the month of May! It’s easy to participate, free to sign-up, and is for all skills and abilities! Visit today and start logging your rides to win cool prizes!

Signature Bank of Arkansas  

Signature Bank was founded here in Northwest Arkansas in 2005. Their focus is personal and community banking. When you bank with a community bank, you’re investing in local businesses, local entrepreneurs, local charities, and the causes close to home. Signature Bank has worked hard to earn its tagline, “Community Banking at its Best.”

You may ask why bank at Signature? 

Because they put the focus on the customer instead of on having a branch on every corner, this means you can have your questions answered by a real person, whether you’re reaching out to the call center or your banker’s cell phone. You can access any ATM in the country without fear of a fee.  They will refund all of those fees at the end of every month. Finally, they are constantly improving their digital offerings to make sure you can access the best financial tools from your laptop, phone, or tablet 24 hours a day.

Signature Bank of Arkansas is a full-service bank offering traditional checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, business and personal loans, and mortgages.

Give the folks at Signature Bank a call (479-684-4700) or visit their website Signature.Bank and let them know you heard about them on the I am Northwest Arkansas Podcast. 

Signature Bank of Arkansas is a Member of the FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender.  


Are you looking for ways to build a Digital Marketing Strategy from scratch? Whether you need to design things for your family or personal brand or need a versatile design tool to help you with your social media presence. Canva can help.  

Need new Business Cards? Canva has you covered. 

Need to create and post Social Media images easily? Canva has you covered.

Need to create videos for Social Media and beyond? Canva has you covered.

Need to create a sharp-looking resume? Canva has you covered.

Need access to more than 3-Million Royalty-Free Images? 

Ok, you get the point!

Canva covers just about anything you need from a design perspective, and it costs pennies a day to open a Canva Pro account. 

Try Canva for FREE today at

Email to learn more about sponsorship opportunities.

*Note: some of the resources mentioned may be affiliate links. This means we get paid a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Connect more with I am Northwest Arkansas:

●     Join our Email List!

●     Email Us

●     Connect with Our Facebook Page

●     Connect with Our Twitter @iamnorthwestar1

●     Connect with Our Instagram @iamnorthwestarkansas

●    Join The Facebook Group

●     Connect with our Fearless Host Randy Wilburn on LinkedIn

Thank you for listening to this episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. We showcase businesses, culture, entrepreneurship, and everyday people’s lives, making Northwest Arkansas what it is today. Consider a one-time donation to our production team to keep this podcast running smoothly.