Foundation Announces 2020 Plan for Home Region
The Walton Family Foundation today announced its grant-making plan through 2020 for the Home Region, which includes an anticipated investment of more than $302 million in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi.
These investments represent a special and ongoing commitment to the region where the Walton family launched an iconic American business success story. The over-arching goal is to create and sustain long-term economic development opportunities by improving educational outcomes, continuing support for arts and cultural amenities, coordinating regional development, and preserving a sense of place, thus, creating a better quality of life for residents in the area.
“Northwest Arkansas is a great place to call home,” said Rob Brothers, director of the Walton Family Foundation Home Region Focus Area. “Our investment strategy through 2020 is sharply focused on initiatives that will continue to make the region an even more desirable place to live and work.”
Expand High-Achieving Pre-K-12 School Options
Existing public, private and charter schools in Northwest Arkansas consistently outperform other schools in Arkansas. Therefore, the first initiative – to Expand High-Achieving Pre-K-12 School Options – is based on the desire to build on the success of those schools by expanding the choices available to a diverse and growing population in the region. This initiative seeks to generate outstanding student academic outcomes,with the goal of having schools in the region ranked among the nation’s best in academic performance.
The foundation will continue to assist in expanding public open enrollment charter school choices and support for innovative programs in traditional public schools designed to close achievement gaps and increase academic performance.
“We are very proud of our public schools and the level of education they provide, but we understand that additional options can help every family,” said Michael Poore, superintendent of Bentonville School District. “Public schools are appreciative of the opportunity to innovate and serve students in a more complete way with the implementation of the foundation’s 2020 plan.”
Additionally, the foundation is conducting a feasibility study to determine the need or desire for the establishment of an independent private school in Northwest Arkansas.
Establish the Region as a Leader in Arts and Cultural Amenities
The second initiative – to Establish Northwest Arkansas as a Leader in Arts and Cultural Amenities – is designed to strengthen the area’s already rich arts and culturalcommunity.
For almost three decades, the Walton Family Foundation has invested generously to establish and enhance art and cultural opportunities in the region. Future investments will be used to ensure continued operations of established arts and culture organizations; to increase and broaden attendance and exposure for those amenities; to support more performing and visual arts opportunities; and, to increase national recognition of the arts and cultural offerings of the region.
Emphasis will be placed on increasing the number of performances at performing arts centers and companies that will attract a large audience with many of the tickets sold to patrons coming from outside of the immediate area.
One such recipient of the foundation’s investment in arts and cultural amenities is the Amazeum, an approximately 50,000 square-foot learning center currently under construction in Bentonville and scheduled to open in 2015.
“The Amazeum will be a wonderful addition to Northwest Arkansas with educationally sound exhibitions and programs where children and families can come together to explore, discover and create,” said Sam Dean, executive director of Amazeum. “The Walton Family Foundation shared our vision for such a place and it will soon become a reality.”
Strengthen Coordinated Regional Economic Development
The third initiative – to Strengthen Coordinated Regional Economic Development – seeks to help coordinate economic development and ensure the long-term economic vitality of Northwest Arkansas.
The goal is to encourage a regional approach in forming economic development policies and projects, and to encourage entrepreneurship.Measurable objectives have been established to determine success, including business formation and net job growth.
“A half-million people now live in Northwest Arkansas,” explained Mike Malone, president and CEO of Northwest Arkansas Council. “Economic development will always be a priority as we work to make the area great for business and great for life.”
Preserve a Sense of Place
The final Northwest Arkansas initiative – to Preserve a Sense of Place – is designed to position the area as a desirable place to live and where businesses want to locate because of the built and natural environment.
Strategies for this initiative include: increasing the number and usage of natural surface trails; preserving and maintaining green space; regional coordination on downtown revitalization and well-planned growth policies; regional coordination on infrastructure and transportation networks, including multi-use hard surface trails, such as the 36-mile Razorback Regional Greenway; and, improving and protecting water quality.
“The foundation helped lead the vision of the Greenway from its inception and as we near completion, it remains a valued partner, providing resources and encouragement to make the regional trail system one of the nation’s very best,” said John McLarty of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.
Recently, the International Mountain Bicycling Association recognized Bentonville trails with its silver-level designation and Fayetteville trails with its bronze-level designation.
Success in this initiative will be achieved as downtown areas become increasingly vibrant, when important green spaces are preserved, and when more people are involved in active transportation.
Delta Region of Arkansas and Mississippi
Since its inception almost 30 years ago, the foundation has been committed to investing in projects in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta regions. The long-standing support continues in the 2020 plan.
The initiative for the broader Delta region will address:
- Educational improvement to include support for new high-quality school options, and improvement of existing public charter and district options, through partners such as KIPP Delta and Teach For America.
Initiatives for Phillips County, Arkansas, and Coahoma County, Mississippi, include:
- Public safety, through support of officer safety and law enforcement technology improvements;
- Engaging and developing young people, by expanding on the success of programs like the Phillips County Boys and Girls Club; and
- Job creation in targeted industries, particularly civil war and cultural heritage tourism.
“The Walton Family Foundation helped us accomplish what many believed to be impossible – develop a school in the Arkansas Delta that is among the state’s highest achieving academic public schools,” said Scott Shirey, executive director of KIPP Delta Public Charter School. “We’re thankful for the resources provided by the foundation to help our children reach high academic standards.”
“The 2020 plan is one that is built on the foundation’s desire to help provide resources for success in Northwest Arkansas and in the Delta,” Brothers explained. “Though each has its own unique opportunities, the goal is the same: to develop and grow great communities where people want to live, work and play.”