A small Southern state that’s nestled in between six bordering states (Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi), Arkansas has been cast into the spotlight by two larger-than-life natives: former governor and U.S. President Bill Clinton, and discount merchandising genius Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, the largest retailer on the planet with annual sales of $482 billion as of 2015. (To put it into perspective, that figure is five times that of the next largest competitor.)
Wal-Mart employs more than 18,000 people at its home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, with a significant number of additional skilled workers employed by Wal-Mart vendors that have set up shop in the area. It’s not the only big company to call Arkansas home, however. Thanks partly to agribusiness giant Tyson Foods, Arkansas is #2 in broiler chicken production in the U.S. Other major corporations based in Arkansas include Dillard's (department stores), Alltel (communications) and J.B. Hunt (trucking).
Wal-Mart's prosperity, along with the University of Arkansas in nearby Fayetteville (with over 26,000 undergraduate and graduate Razorbacks) and appealing lakefront and golf resort communities like Bella Vista, have made the Bentonville-Rogers-Springdale-Fayetteville metro area in the state’s northwest corner one of the fastest growing in the country. For example, since 2000, the population of Bentonville has grown an astonishing 69%. Thanks to the strong job market, unemployment in the Northwest Arkansas region is 3.6%, compared to 5.4% for the state.
Arkansas real estate is a veritable bargain when contrasted with national averages. In 2015, the median home value in Arkansas was $109,900, and the median rental price was $791. However, Arkansas also ranks near the bottom for median household income – 48th in the country with a median of approximately $40,000 per household.
True to its nickname, the Natural State benefits from substantial mineral resources. The nation's top producer of bromine, quartz crystal, lasca, novaculite and silica stone, it’s also #1 for the recovery of diamonds in the U.S. In fact, Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro is the only diamond mine in the world open to the public, and more than 100,000 diamonds have been found there since 1906. Better yet, the park has a “finders keepers” policy, and some visitors have turned up diamonds that are over three carats. Arkansas' land area of 52,038 square miles is also more than 55% forested, making lumber and wood products another significant industry.
Arkansas' varied topography draws visitors for a variety of recreational opportunities, pumping billions of tourist dollars into its economy. A warm, humid climate and fertile farmlands in the south adjoin the temperate Ozark and Ouchita Mountains in the north and west. Visitors also flock to numerous lakes, rivers and thermal springs, known for their reputed healing properties. One of the most famous is Hot Springs National Park, the oldest park managed by the National Park Service.
Arkansas holds the distinction of being the only state to codify the pronunciation of its name. In 1881, the state legislature, reacting to widespread confusion about how the name should be pronounced, declared the only correct method is “ARKansaw,” and that the alternative pronunciation of “ArKANsas” was to be discouraged.