Benton not keeping pace with county's growth rate

By Steve Boggs

During last week’s Benton Chamber of Commerce Summit event, leaders from the pillars of this community gave updates on their institutions and some insight on challenges facing them in the future. Themed “Come Grow With Us,” the summit was designed to position the city of Benton as an area on the verge of a substantial growth spurt.
There’s no doubt that with help from the new event center, and the completion of several major infrastructure projects, Benton does seems to have a bit of a tailwind when it comes to growth. Compared to the rest of the county, however, Benton has some catching up to do.
In the Central Arkansas region, the fastest growing areas continue to be Faulkner and Saline counties, according to Metroplan’s June Demographic Trends report. Faulkner County grew 5.5 percent in population between 2010 and 2013, while Saline County grew at a 5.4 percent rate. Metroplan’s population estimate for Saline County this year is 112,896.
The city of Benton grew only 3.5 percent in population between 2010 and 2013. Bryant continues to be the fastest growing part of the county, increasing population by 12.4 percent during that time frame. In terms of growth rate, Bryant was followed by Haskell (9.0), Shannon Hills (5.7) and the unincorporated areas (4.7) of the county. Only Alexander (0.6), Traskwood (-1.5) and Beauxite (3.1) trail Benton in recent population growth rate.
Based on figures published by Metroplan, 4,679 people chose to move to Saline County over the past three years, and 80 percent of them chose to live somewhere other than the county seat and largest city. The question is, why?
Since 2000, Bryant has exploded in population and that trend is expected to continue. However, Metroplan says the city’s recent restrictions “may steer apartment construction toward other communities.” It probably won’t be Benton, which has added only six multi-family dwelling units since 2010, compared to 624 in Bryant.
Saline County’s third largest city is now Haskell, which grew to a population of 4,349 in 2013. Not only is the area home to a top-notch school in Harmony Grove, it also is primed to capture, or at least benefit from, long-planned retail and business growth along I-30 southwest of Benton.
It was noted with great fanfare at the summit that Fairfield Inn and Suites adjacent to the event center will be the first new hotel built in Benton in 26 years. Three years after that hotel opened, Benton’s population was 18,177. Today it is 31,768. That’s a growth rate of 74 percent over 23-plus years without a new hotel opening – on an interstate corridor.
Benton has all the foundations needed for growth. The school district is among the state’s best and it is home to the only medical center in the county. Yet the areas surrounding the city limits are growing one-and-a-half to three times as fast. And the numbers show it’s not limited to Bryant anymore.
In golf they say par is a good score. That’s only true if everyone else in your group isn’t carding a birdie, eagle … or better.

Steve Boggs is pubisher of The Saline Courier. He can be reached at