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Northwest Arkansas seems a growing place, so something's going right. Better said, somebody's doing right. From mayors to private businesses to park superintendents to golf course designers, things are looking up (as soon as this weather clears). The thousands of people moving to Fayetteville, Bentonville, Springdale and Rogers each year can't be wrong.

You know who else really likes northwest Arkansas? The nation's largest private employer.

On a warm May morning, we gathered inside the front door at Walmart's Home Office in Bentonville with other reporters. We were all given lanyards with our names. (First class all the way!) Inky wretches from all around were there to see Walmart's plans for a new headquarters.

We were led into a large auditorium. At the front of the room was a large model of what Walmart's new campus would look like, with several new buildings, lakes, green space--all built around a main bike trail not far from downtown Bentonville.

The model reminded us of other Fortune 500 companies that have built a headquarters into something of an open campus. Lots of planning had gone into this particular design, and it'll be exciting to watch it come along over the next few years.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson showed up, along with Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman and others. Then Walmart CEO Doug McMillon stood and began to discuss the new HQ. Mr. McMillon said Walmart wanted a campus designed in new ways, with a home office that will reflect the company's social and environmental values.

The CEO said he was excited to further invest in Bentonville and northwest Arkansas. And that's really what this new campus is all about: It's a commitment from an Arkansas-born company to remain true to its home.

Executive Vice President Dan Bartlett said that currently Walmart occupies about 20 buildings in the area, and it's straining resources to operate that way. The new campus, announced in 2017, will sit on more than 300 acres, and the first phase will start soon with demolitions. Work on the first building will begin in the fall. It might take till 2024 to get the campus up and running completely.

Mr. Bartlett called this the biggest construction project in northwest Arkansas history.

It's staggering when you look at the model and see all it will encompass. This project is going to require a grand assortment of resources. The brass at Walmart seems fully aware of this. Northwest Arkansas is already undergoing a construction boom. It's a good time to be a contractor or construction worker.

Everywhere you look, more apartments are going up in Fayetteville. And have you driven through Rogers lately? The Arkansas Music Pavilion is expanding, and Topgolf is going in. If Arkansas has a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, northwest Arkansas might have a negative figure.

One part of the presentation caught our eye in particular: the announcement that one of the main sources for Walmart's new buildings was going to be cross-laminated timber made from pine in southern Arkansas. The material is more sustainable than steel and concrete, and it's fire retardant, so we shouldn't have a Mrs. O'Leary cow/lantern situation.

When Gov. Hutchinson took the microphone, he said he was excited about the Arkansas timber Walmart would be using for this construction. All that wood has to be cut, treated and transported to the northwest part of the state, which means new jobs created for a region that could desperately use them.

And this will be the largest cross-laminated timber project ever constructed in the U.S., according to Mr. Bartlett. This means Walmart's campus will be a model going forward for other companies that want to conduct large-scale cross-laminated timber projects.

The governor also talked about Arkansas' global reputation. When people hear the name Arkansas, it's synonymous with Walmart, one of the biggest retailers in the world. Gov. Hutchinson said he hears that often.

And all the talent brought here from across the country and planet makes a big difference to the state.

You can't talk about Bentonville without talking about restaurants. The town of nearly 50,000 people has become a hub for foodies with all the new restaurants and food trucks popping up. And Mr. Bartlett said the new Walmart campus will certainly incorporate a wide variety of cuisine to reflect the array of cultures from associates who come from all over to make Bentonville their home.

Mr. Bartlett said Walmart has spoken with local restaurateurs and taken in all sorts of feedback on offering food at the new campus. The model display showed multiple spaces for food trucks, along with a central area that'll have several eating options. It makes sense. When you have thousands of employees that have to eat every day, food options should be a priority.

Someone at the event asked about the old buildings Walmart would be leaving behind, and Mr. Bartlett said it wasn't the company's intention to simply leave a bunch of vacant buildings scattered throughout Bentonville. This is good to hear. Usually when a company leaves an area, empty buildings remain as blight.

The new campus sounds modern and, dare we say, hip. It was described on Friday as "communities within communities" and an extension of the neighborhood. While other campuses can feel isolated, Walmart said this new facility will feel much more open. And it'll come with fun stuff like scooters, electric bikes, bicycle shares and more.

"We're trying to think of it in a way that's timeless," Mr. McMillon said, speaking on the future of Walmart and its new campus' legacy. "I'm really excited about getting it completed."

We are too. It may seem like 2024 is a long way off, but since the campus will be phased in, there will be lots to watch and see as this future commitment to Arkansas continues to unfold.

Onward!

Editorial on 05/21/2019

Print Headline: Home Sweet Home

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