Search This Blog

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Northwest Arkansas

Here is a fun fact to know and tell - the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan region is the second-fastest growing region in the United States after the Las Vegas region. Why is this happening? Two words, people - "WalMart Effect." The retail leviathan has been gradually re-creating the region. Not too long ago, folks that had business with WalMart would take a puddle-jumper from Cincinatti or St. Louis into a funky little airport in Fayetteville that had the ambiance of a Greyhound bus station. WalMart muscled through funding for a very nice regional airport that is out in the country, 10 miles away from Springdale, Fayetteville and Bentonville - Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA). There are now lots of non-stop flights between major US cities and XNA. My trip from Chicago went from a 4 hour ordeal to a quick one-hour hop. Then WalMart told their suppliers that they would only do business with firms that placed a senior executive with decision-making authority in the Bentonville area. So there are tons of new executives moving into Northwest Arkansas. This ain't hillbilly heaven anymore - you got big-ass executive houses, country clubs and lots of brand new schools opening up. The tax base is growing; the job opportunities are, too (if you have the "right skills" - high school drop-outs need not apply). In addition to WalMart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Trucking add to the business activity. And the University of Arkansa in Fayetteville provides lots of activity (jobs, culture, sports). Northwest Arkansas is frothy right now.

Folks in my neck of the woods (Chicago) don't like WalMart (Target is fine, though - this mystifies me, since Target and Walmart pay identical average wages and are equally brutal on local retailers...). A store on the rugged South Side of Chicago was blocked, mainly due to the fierce efforts of liberal folks - local and non-local. Some people in the neighborhood wanted the store, but they didn't have the clout to get it through the zoning board. Sam Walton re-invented retailing, and many people don't like the changes. The constant squeeze on costs to keep prices low leads to outcomes the rile up some people. Radical change in retailing is tough to swallow, especially for small retailers and union people.

I spent 2 days in Northwest Arkansas last week, working on a deal for my client. I can't reveal any details - it is all tied up by a non-disclosure agreement. I can reveal that my role was to serve as advisor and "stage manager" as my client met with potential business partners. It is interesting work, and loads of fun for a student of human behavior and relationships. Think of several dogs sniffing each other at the fire hydrant, trying to decide whether to fight or mate, and you have the picture.

I love my job, man.

No comments: