Bentonville hosts economic think tank targeting 20 states

Ross DeVol, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Forward, poses for a photo in downtown Bentonville in this Nov. 27, 2019 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)
Ross DeVol, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Forward, poses for a photo in downtown Bentonville in this Nov. 27, 2019 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

BENTONVILLE — About 350 policymakers, investors and entrepreneurs met Wednesday and Thursday to share ideas for advancing the economy, health care and culture of the nation’s heartland.

Ross DeVol, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Forward, a “think-and-do” tank founded in 2019, said the group is necessary because it is much easier for businesses and start-ups to access capital and other resources on the East and West coasts.

Heartland Forward conducts research to identify opportunities for economic growth and advancement in the central part of the nation, defining the region as comprising 20 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Heartland Forward aims to level the playing field for the states and local communities in between by studying broader economic trends and then using that research to create programs and policies that address the needs of the nation’s midsection.

“I firmly believe [that] to have credibility, you have to have a strong applied research base on which you can then build programs,” DeVol said.

In opening Thursday’s breakout session on economic development, DeVol gave a couple of examples of how Heartland Forward’s research has been used from a public policy angle.

DeVol said Heartland Forward did a report on the potential re-shoring of advanced manufacturing to the heartland. A group called Jobs of Ohio used this report to help make its case to Intel to open two computer-chip manufacturing plants east of Columbus.

As a result, Ohio’s governor announced in January 2022 that Intel was investing about $20 billion to build the plants in the state.

DeVol said those plants are now under construction.

“It wasn’t just us, but we helped make the case for why it made sense financially and for national security reasons,” he said.

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