Last week while working on a story for ArkansasBusiness.com about Crystal Bridges and its first-year numbers and impact on Bentonville, local officials stressed to us that all the recent growth and positive development has truly been the result of a community effort.
Daniel Hintz of Downtown Bentonville told us Bentonville’s growth wouldn’t have been possible without such collaboration. From public initiatives to private investments, Bentonville is booming. Not that it hasn’t always been a nice play to live. It has, absolutely.
But now it’s got a quirky Norman-Rockwell-meets-Andy-Warhol kind of vibe going — thanks in large part to Alice Walton and the museum — that’s attracting folks.
Abby Kiefer moved to Bentonville from San Francisco with her husband because of his work in 2010, and once here, she founded IA client Red Clay. His work dictated a move back, but Red Clay’s home office remains in Bentonville and Kiefer splits her time between Arky and Cali.
Hers is an interesting perspective. She’s from Wisconsin and went to school in the Midwest but has experience living and working in the Bay area and now in Arkansas.
Kiefer believes the impact of giants like Wal-Mart, Tyson and J.B. Hunt on the area, direct and otherwise, is huge…and in a good way.
“There’s a great symbiotic relationship going on between the behemoth companies and the small startups and innovators,” she told INOV8. “There are real thought leaders here. Wal-Mart could be resting on its revenues, but it has people who are thinking, ‘Where should Wal-Mart be going next?’”
Kiefer said friends in other parts of the country didn’t understand the scope of Wal-Mart’s influence on the region.
“We always explain to people that Wal-Mart is a third larger than Apple,” she said. “You put that in a town of 30,000 and it’s going to have an impact.”
Each of NWA’s Big 3 has spawned entrepreneurs who are driving innovation in the retail, food and transportation sectors (the ARK Challenge was created to help drive that very innovation), and over the past decade Arkansas has emerged as an up-and-comer in the national startup and innovation communities.
Arkansas, and NWA in particular, surprised the Kiefers. “It completely exceeded our expectations,” she said. “We moved to Bentonville because of professional advantages and we assumed we’d have to work in a bubble. What we found was an incredibly smart town well stocked with incredibly smart people. The ecosystem here oozes with retail knowledge.”
Kiefer said Arkansas represents a happy medium between the “hard workers” of Wisconsin and the “big thinkers” of San Francisco, and she believes Crystal Bridges is an example of that. “Arkansas has big thinkers, and they are well grounded,” she said.
(Thank you and well done, Ms. Walton.)
The museum’s successful first year of operation, the overall growth of the area’s startup community, the revitalization and continued growth of downtown, the NWAEA‘s two startup crawls this year in Fayetteville and Bentonville and the ARK Challenge and its recent Demo Day represent just a few of things that Kiefer says has created a buzz in Bentonville. “Pretty exciting stuff,” she said.
Hintz, meanwhile, said DBI has focused on helping establish a food identity on the square downtown, and it will launch a retail development strategy over the next five years. One focus will be maintaining the energy of the square while further developing the rest of downtown.
[Editor's note: A quick word on Bentonville/NWA convenience stores. Let's face it. We all engage them at one time or another; they have a definite impact on quality of life. Some might even consider them a necessary evil. But Casey's and Kum & Go.....well done. Brilliantly laid out. These chains represent convenience store Shangri-La. Shangri...I'll say it again...La. Down in these parts, walking into a c-store entails an immediate Slim Jim beat-down as soon as you walk in the door. That is, if the lines at the registers aren't blocking the entrance...]
There’s a “new, emerging experience” in Bentonville, Hintz said. “Our mission is to fuel, and don’t detract from, the mission.”
So far, it’s been mission accomplished. The Bentonville tank appears far from empty.
Now, head on down to Kum & Go and treat yourself to a well-stocked and even-better-displayed Slim Jim on your way to view some world-renowned art. Grounded…big thinkers…yesssssss. Really, aside from calling the Hogs, could you get more Arkansas than that?
And actually, make that a potato log and a Diet Dew…