Sonia Davis Gutiérrez befriended Arkansas as a little girl when her family relocated from Louisiana to the Little Rock suburb of Jacksonville. After graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a double major in graphic design and microbiology, she made the move to New York City for grad school.

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Sonia was rushing to class to present her summer thesis when tragedy struck./p>

“Just like everyone, I had a major life analysis after 9/11,” she says. After a period of shock and uncertainty of what her next step would be, “I knew immediately that I had to go back to Arkansas. Within two weeks I had packed everything.”

Inspired by the idea of educating people for a new career, Sonia founded the Fayetteville nonprofit New Design School in 2006. She estimates it’s reached around 500 people since, teaching graphic design, technology and business skills on schedules tailored for working adults.

For Sonia and her stone sculptor husband Mike, Arkansas is well equipped on both the art and business fronts, and she’s not shy about sharing her passion for the state: She’s convinced both her dad and brother to relocate to the area, too.

“We continue to come back because of the quality of life, the people, the culture, the natural beauty,” she says. “The food and the culture are warm, and it’s an amazing place to start a business.”

Insider Knowledge

Where to eat:
  • Brick House Kitchen, Fayetteville
  • Dripping Springs Garden, Huntsville
What to Do:

  • Banff Mountain Film Festival, Fayetteville (September)
  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville
  • Fayetteville Underground Gallery