Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Harrison Ford, Drew Barrymore, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (For you kids, he was the Tim Duncan of the 70s and 80s. And Duncan could’ve used his sky hook last night…)
Anyway, all have been recent visitors to Bentonville.
Indeed, Bentonville is Arkansas’ current ‘It’ city, and it’s a distinction that’s well earned. Just ask Movista co-founders April Seggebruch and Stan Zylowski. They planted their UofA graduate startup in Bentonville and are on the verge of big things in the mobile data collection realm.
Northwest Arkansas, of course, has been burgeoning the last couple of decades, and Bentonville’s forward momentum is not a new revelation. Thanks to UA research and the presence of companies like Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt — all, literally, world leaders in their fields — the environment has been conducive to business growth.
UA economist Kathy Deck sees no reason for that momentum to slow, and IA advisor Jeff Amerine thinks Bentonville’s growth is just getting started. (More from them in a minute…)
Business growth in Bentonville has been fueled not only by startup activity but of course by the opening of Crystal Bridges, the 21C Hotel and the “orbital swag” that comes with such A-list attractions.
Bentonville has become a delicious little gumbo of small-town, cosmopolitan charm, with world-class living amenities and new ingredients added every day.
Realtor/developer/entrepreneur/ARK Challenge mentor Ramsey Ball told us that some folks used to consider Bentonville a tour of duty. Go do your two years at Wal-Mart corporate and get out. Those days are long past.
Whether it’s a new high-end restaurant catering to the new influx of visitors or a tech startup benefiting from proximity to Wal-Mart and its vendors, Bentonville is big for business. Our Q&A with April and Stan got us thinking — What’s behind all this growth?
We got some feedback from three folks who are pretty well plugged into NWA business — Amerine, IA advisor, serial entrepreneur and investor; Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the UA’s Walton Business College, and Tom Ginn, VP for economic development with the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce.
We’ll bring you a Q&A with Ginn on Thursday, but for now (this still being the South and all), let’s start out with Deck. She’s big on B-ville and its transformation from sleepy hamlet to small city where one might happen upon Tom Cruise signing autographs on a downtown street corner on any given night.
“When you look at the city of Bentonville, you see a concerted effort to make it more than it was,” she said, noting three things:
“They see an opportunity to provide some sort of solution to Wal-Mart, its vendors, or its customers,” she said. “You get a cluster of folks there who have knowledge of the retail industry.”
Deck said the city’s latest jobless rate was at 4.7 percent and headed south.
“The people who are coming to Bentonville are already employed,” she said. “Since the end of 2010 until now, Bentonville has just exploded.” She estimates that more than 4,000 have been added to the city’s labor force since 2010.
“In terms of being a place where people want to live and work, Bentonville has made great strides,” she said. “The key is to keep investing in Bentonville. I don’t see any signs that the momentum for investing is slowing.”
Amerine (who used to blog here oh so many, many eons ago…..) is big on NWA and thinks this is just the beginning for B-ville (yes, apparently, we’re sticking with ‘B-ville’):
There has never been a better time to be a startup in NWA. With nearly $100 million in venture finance poured into 3 NWA companies recently, Acumen Brands, Collective Bias and Field Agent, the outlook for continued startup growth and investment is outstanding. Couple that with Rockfish’s successful exit to WPP within the past two years and there’s no question the region is on to something pretty special.
So why Bentonville?
Bentonville has an increasingly large and entrepreneurial talent pool drawn from the best and brightest from around the world. This churning talent pool understands every facet of retail, CPG and supply chain. That constant refresh of business and technical talent eventually leads to new ventures spinning out from the flagship enterprises that then have the intellect and agility to solve the technical and business problems they face. We are seeing the benefits of that now. My opinion is that the process will accelerate at an accelerating pace because an ecosystem, a startup and venture community is forming that now has self-propelled momentum.
When other potential startup founders see opportunity and they see venture funding and they see successful exits, that then drives the will to start something new with the belief the task is not impossible. The world is beginning to take notice. Stay tuned this is only the beginning.