Listing Arkansas cities as “buy” or “sell” opportunities, Searcy is an easy hot buy and an emerging star in the Arkansas municipal hierarchy. The population of White County’s seat of government increased 3.8 percent between 2020 and 2023 to just shy of 24,000. That represents a rate of growth on par with the state’s municipal golden children in northwest Arkansas and placed Searcy among the top 10 for growth in Arkansas.

 

In fact, Searcy’s growth outpaced all other Arkansas cities with more than 20,000 people, and it was the 95th fastest growing U.S. city in that time span, the U.S. Census Bureau states. Among Arkansas cities, few can match the momentum taking root these days in the charming community known for its good local schools, Rockwellian historic downtown and the quickly rising profile of hometown Harding University.

“Searcy’s growth is a testament to our exceptional quality of life, collaboration among community partners and the high level of engagement among citizens,” said Mayor Mat Faulkner. “Searcy is a great place to raise a family and start a business. Our economy is thriving, and we are seeing a tremendous amount of new development. We are excited to continue working together to move Searcy forward.”

 

Geographically, Searcy has always been something of an odd fit. Not exactly northeast Arkansas and not quite central Arkansas, Searcy does not cleanly mesh into any of the state’s geographic categories. Instead, the city serves as a gateway to several of them and represents an easy drive to the Little Rock metro, the Arkansas Delta and even the Ozark foothills.

The city’s civic curriculum vitae is impressive for a small city. Searcy is the home base for one of the state’s largest banks, First Security Bank, as well as Yarnell’s Ice Cream Co., an Arkansas staple. The first Walmart distribution center outside of Bentonville was in Searcy, and in 2019, the city was named the winner of a competition on the Hulu show Small Business Revolution on Main Street. The city was awarded $500,000 to revamp six small businesses downtown, and the renovations were the show’s sole focus for a season.

 

Searcy also is the hometown of Mike Beebe, the popular two-term governor who represented the area in the Arkansas Senate for 20 years before serving as the state’s attorney general.

 

First Security Bancorp, the financial services holding company for First Security Bank, partnered with local Hart Construction to build its impressive, three-story technology center in the heart of town. The company, which has more than $1.5 billion in total capital and more than $8.1 in assets, has 78 locations across Arkansas and more than 1,000 employees. Its holdings include Crews & Associates and First Security Public Finance.

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A picturesque town and quality-of-life investments have contributed to Searcy’s growth.

Searcy also is home to XPO, one of the area’s largest employers, which has more than 300 local workers on its payroll. XPO is the only freight transportation company in the United States to manufacture its own trailers. The custom-designed trailers feature XPO’s proprietary SafeStack system for safe freight handling and transportation. In April, the company celebrated 30 years in town. Its workers have produced roughly 90,000 trailers since 1994, and the plant produced more than 6,400 trailers in 2023, exceeding the company’s target and more than doubling the factory’s output in 2021.

 

In addition, the Searcy plant is one of the nation’s most active centers for recycling used trailers, recycling 86 percent of trailer materials to reduce the amount of waste in landfills.

 

In celebrating the 30-year milestone, XPO CEO Mario Harik beamed over the Searcy facility’s ability to maintain the company’s trailer fleet at low cost while quickly adapting to customers’ changing needs.

A city-wide Christmas celebration helps put Searcy on the map.

“We are proud of our talented team in Searcy for the great work they’re doing to support the growth of our fleet and the delivery of exceptional service for customers,” he said.

 

Searcy not only works hard; it studies hard. A college town, it is home to a branch of Arkansas State University and to Harding University. An acclaimed private institution affiliated with the Church of Christ, Harding delivered the city some national exposure late last year when the football team capped an impressive undefeated season by winning the NCAA Division II national championship.

The Harding University Bisons’ recent football success has garnered the city even more attention.

The images broadcast by ESPN showing thousands of black-and-gold clad Bisons fans filling the stadium in McKinney, Texas, for the title game provided the school and, by extension, its home city with some significant national exposure. City officials joined their university counterparts in reveling in the win and subsequent exposure.

 

“Searcy is currently experiencing significant growth and positive momentum, and we hope that this exposure will help draw more families, businesses and organizations to learn more about Harding, our community and the people who make it truly special,” Faulkner said.

 

Harding felt an immediate impact in terms of football recruits and aspiring college students turning their eyes toward Searcy. Scott Hannigan, senior director of admissions at Harding, said the exposure from the title game appearance and win resulted in an increase in interest and campus visits.

 

“Many prospective students are seeking a vibrant athletic environment at both the competitive and spectator levels,” he said.

 

Steve Lake, vice president of enrollment at the university, said the football program reported an almost immediate increase in inquiries and visits from prospective recruits.

“I’m proud of how our football team and coaches represented our institution on the national stage by providing a window into the rich community and Christ-centered culture offered at Harding,” he said. “Harding has been performing both athletically and academically at the highest level for a long time, and it was incredibly special to see our story told nationwide.”

 

Harding’s fall 2023 enrollment sat at just fewer than 5,000 students from 48 states and more than 50 countries and territories. All those students call Searcy home for most of the year, and the city’s college-town setting helps enhance the Searcy vibe.

 

The university’s success on the gridiron was a significant public-relations win for the city, but Searcy had been building positive momentum before the Bisons’ title run. Searcy’s historic downtown district and its focus on the arts is a catalyst for local tourism and an outlet for students. Downtown, visitors can find art galleries, boutiques, theaters and restaurants galore. There is a self-guided downtown mural tour that includes the popular Art Alley, the Daily Citizen Park outdoor music venue, the historic Searcy Rialto theater and Benjamin Clayton Black House and Art Gallery, as well as Performing Arts Center on the Square.

 

Meanwhile, Searcy’s events and attractions have grown into regional draws that pull visitors from beyond White County. Popular local events on the city’s calendar include the annual Holiday of Lights and Fourth of July celebrations, the Beats & Eats series of artisanal events, the Get Down Downtown festival and Main Street Searcy Farmers’ Market.

 

“Over the past several years, we’ve noticed a significant increase in visitors to our community,” said Chris Howell, chairman of the Searcy A&P Commission, who added that the commission recently invested in marketing initiatives to promote local businesses and attract more visitors.

 

“It’s been exciting to see the positive response and engagement as we showcase all the great things Searcy has to offer to people from across the state,” he said.

 

Tara Cathey, president and CEO of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Searcy’s progress is evident from the growth along U.S. 67, which is soon to become part of the southern leg of Interstate 57, a roadway that will connect Poplar Bluff, Missouri, to Little Rock.

 

“The new commercial development alongside future I-57 is a testament to Searcy’s dynamic business environment,” she said. “It’s a catalyst for progress, drawing new companies and enhancing our community’s prosperity. It’s exciting to watch the area quickly becoming a bustling hub of economic activity, drawing visitors from neighboring regions.”

 

Cathey said the business climate in Searcy is “exceptionally strong” and lauded the synergy between local government, business leaders and the community for creating an ideal setting for businesses to grow and succeed.

 

In a press release following the Census Bureau announcement, Forward Searcy CEO Darrell Welch emphasized the city’s focus on economic development.

 

“As Searcy continues to grow, we are actively working to attract new businesses and industries to our area,” he said. “Through strategic economic development initiatives and partnerships, we are creating opportunities for job growth and investment in our community.”

 

In March, local voters displayed their commitment to Searcy’s growth by passing a half-cent sales tax and a dedicated portion of A&P revenue. The bond measures will allow the city to move forward with a new 20-year, $93 million master plan focused on quality-of-life enhancements. The plan was put together with heavy input from the community.

 

“This vote represents a pivotal moment for Searcy’s future,” Faulkner said after the measures were passed. “It underscores our community’s shared vision and commitment to building a vibrant, inclusive and thriving city for generations to come.”

 

Components of the plan include a new community center, outdoor water park, bike and walking trails, and new playing fields, as well as improvements to existing fields, updates to existing Riverside and Berryhill parks and more.

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Local leaders view economic development as key to the city’s future.

“This is a part of the first phase of our plan to provide better connectivity throughout the community,” Faulkner said. “We are extremely excited about these projects. They will truly be transformative for our community.”

 

Searcy may have flown under the radar for many Arkansans, but that may not be the case for much longer.

 

“We consistently hear from visitors about the fantastic experiences they have in Searcy,” Howell said. “Whether it’s enjoying our delicious food, engaging in fun activities, exploring our vibrant downtown or meeting our friendly residents, we take pride in the positive impression our city leaves on everyone who visits. Searcy truly is one of the state’s hidden gems, and we’re proud of the welcoming and enriching experience we offer to all who come here.”