Tom Ginn, vice president for economic development for the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 262 new businesses have opened in Bentonville since last June.
In all of 2012, that number is estimated to be 187. His are rough estimates — there’s no official tally.
Still, something is attracting folks to town, and of course Wal-Mart and Crystal Bridges are a big part of that overall something. Folks come because they see opportunity, and once they get there they like what they see…
Area civic leaders such as Downtown Bentonville Inc.’s Daniel Hintz have always believed that what’s good for one city in the region is good for the entire region — and they feel the same way about Bentonville’s recent growth contributing to NWA’s overall health.
While Ginn admits his estimates could be a little high, he’s particularly excited about what he calls an “accelerated pace of growth” over the last year. He recently let us pick his brain a little about the rise of Bentonville as a startup launching pad.
INOV8: Does it remain advantageous for tech startups in the retail realm to immerse themselves in the Wal-Mart orbit, so to speak?
Tom: Absolutely, it does. With the many facets of the world’s largest retailer constantly in a dynamic state, fresh ideas and re-makes of old ideas will be and should be the norm for tech startups. We are seeing some truly exciting ideas come to the market and attracting capital.
INOV8: Could Bentonville’s forward momentum siphon momentum from Fayetteville?
Tom: Bentonville has seen its share of startups recently, and some have hit the news. Bentonville is becoming a place where the environment is right for startups and will continue going forward. Because of its proximity to the U of A, Fayetteville will continue as well in this new age of entrepreneurship.
INOV8: Why would a startup not related to retail want to launch in or relocate to Bentonville?
Tom: There are a few good reasons why Bentonville would be a great place to launch or relocate here. The business culture is welcoming, there are available talent and labor pools here, there is an improving funding picture, and the proximity to the U of A and its research capabilities.
INOV8: The museum, the 21C Hotel, the new restaurants and trails…how much of a factor has quality of life played in attracting new businesses to Bentonville?
Tom: Today, people find the place they want to live (such as Bentonville with its quality of life), and then they find a quality job. It used to be the opposite. Bentonville has worked tirelessly to put itself in this position so our existing businesses and new businesses can have the opportunity to thrive.
INOV8: Just how much of a factor is Wal-Mart?
Tom: Wal-Mart is a huge factor when it comes to being an innovator and attracting innovators with its sheer size. And it is still a growth company…pretty amazing! People want to be associated with and in proximity to winners — and they come here for opportunity. That’s part of the attraction.