Open Call Brings Retail Hopefuls to Pitch Walmart

One of Walmart’s top annual events takes place this week as the company welcomes some of the nation’s top retail entrepreneurs to Northwest Arkansas.

The Walmart Open Call starts Tuesday at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers and wraps up Wednesday at the company’s Home Office in Bentonville. It’s possible to watch the opening session live at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and that should provide great insight into how the day will play out.

Company owners who believe their retail product is ready to make a big splash will be at the Open Call, and it’s always an impressive group. After meeting with Walmart retail sales and product experts, many of those companies’ owners will find they have a product strong enough to get on the shelves of Walmart stores or to have it be available through Walmart.com.

Hundreds of people traveled to Bentonville to attend the Walmart Open Call in 2018 and to learn more about what it takes for entrepreneurs to gain the company’s attention.

Hundreds of people traveled to Bentonville to attend the Walmart Open Call in 2018 and to learn more about what it takes for entrepreneurs to gain the company’s attention.

Walmart in 2013 announced that it would purchase an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made products over a 10-year period. By 2023, Walmart has pledged to purchase approximately $250 billion in products that support the creation of American jobs.

There are some nice stories being told about the hope that comes with being invited to pitch products at the Walmart Open Call, as it creates an incredible opportunity. A New Hampshire woman, for example, wants her Cold Bee Gone that uses honey as a cold remedy to be made available by Walmart, she told the New Hampshire Union Leader. In Tacoma, Wash., The News Tribute shared information about two entrepreneurs who will be in Bentonville to pitch products this week.

It's the stories from past years that demonstrate the power of the annual Walmart event, one that can deliver a product with limited distribution to a national audience. There are some great stories about past successes on an America At Work page maintained by Walmart.

The 2018 event last June produced several companies that now see their products sold by Walmart, including Linda’s Salsa. The Illinois company’s owner, Linda Putnam, saw her salsa’s distribution swell after success at last year’s Open Call. After she traveled to Bentonville, Walmart made the salsa available in six stores, and she’s been allowed to grow her business at her own pace. It’s boosted her sales by $800 to $1,000 in a typical week, she said.

Putnam said the Walmart store managers are kind, and they’re proud to see a local product on store shelves.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us,” Putnam said. “It’s been cool.”

The Walmart Open Call is all about potential. Products may start small with distribution in a few stores, but the most successful entrepreneurs find their products made available in more and more stores and through Walmart.com. Putnam said she wants to eventually have a larger operation to manufacture her salsa, but she isn’t interested in handing the work off to someone else as she wants to ensure the quality of the product doesn’t decline.

Pictured at the top: Holsum de Puerto Rico representatives talk with buyers from Walmart at the 2018 Open Call. The company was successful in its effort to get its cookies that are a category leader in Puerto Rico on the shelves of Walmart stores in Florida and other southeastern states.

Northwest Arkansas Ranks No. 2 Among Mid-Sized Dynamic Metros

Northwest Arkansas ranks as one of the nation’s Most Dynamic Metropolitans, a new report shows.

The region ranks No. 2 among all the nation’s medium-sized metropolitan areas, research made public today by the Walton Family Foundation reveals. Provo, Utah ranks No. 1; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida is No. 3.

Northwest Arkansas ranks No. 17 among all metropolitan areas in the U.S.

“The data show that a knowledge-based economy is key to unlocking economic potential in metropolitan areas across the United States,” said Ross DeVol, a former chief research officer of the Milken Institute who is now a Walton Fellow. “Cities making investments in a knowledge-based economy have performed better economically than those that have not.

 “Technology sectors are under-represented, and too little emphasis is placed on supporting entrepreneurs in Heartland metropolitan areas. Investors must be willing to support early-stage firms, and more universities need to embrace commercialization as a critical part of their mission and educational attainment, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for economic progress in the Heartland and throughout the nation.”

The executive summary of the Dynamic Metros Report shows where the nation’s leading regions rank. The full report is available, too.

Northwest Arkansas over the past two years made significant strides to advance its investment in entrepreneurs.

The improvements include the Northwest Arkansas Council coming to an agreement that will bring Plug and Play to the region before the end of the summer.  The Plug and Play team will work with Walmart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transport Services and the University of Arkansas to address supply chain and logistics challenges faced by the companies, bringing some of the nation’s top supply chain- and logistics-focused entrepreneurs to the region over a three-year period.

Other important steps to support entrepreneurs include WeWork Companies Inc.’s decision to expand to the region as it’s planning to erect a 200,000-square-foot building south of downtown Bentonville. The company provides shared office spaces at 425 locations in 27 countries.

Northwest Arkansas also saw the global organization Endeavor in March announce that it would create a new office in Northwest Arkansas.  A $2 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation will enable Endeavor to go to work. Endeavor NWA will focus on selecting high-impact entrepreneurs and businesses from multiple sectors that have the potential to scale significantly and reinvest back into the country by mentoring and providing financial support for future entrepreneurs.

There are also some important steps being taken at the University of Arkansas, which created an Office of Economic Development in early 2018. The establishment of the office came after a two-year strategic planning process that identified a need for the university to amplify its long-established role in the state's economic success. The office works to expand economic opportunity and prosperity in Arkansas through talent development, innovative research and technologies, community service and placemaking strategies.

In the dynamic metropolitans report, each metropolitan area is ranked and reviewed on performance-based metrics, such as job growth, income gains, and the proportion of total jobs at young firms – a key measure of entrepreneurial performance. This is the first time that such research has been undertaken in this scope.

Pictured at the top: The Bentonville Square was a busy hub at the start of Walmart Shareholders’ Week. Some people were busy visiting farmers’ market booths while others found reading and other activities to keep their attention.

FareFlightNWA Aims to Push Flyers to Prioritize XNA

Drawing the attention of regional residents and prioritizing travel through Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is the goal of a new program announced today by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Frontier Airlines plans to use its Airbus 320 on flights that go from Northwest Arkansas to Denver. The service starts on June 27.

Frontier Airlines plans to use its Airbus 320 on flights that go from Northwest Arkansas to Denver. The service starts on June 27.

The start of the FareFlightNWA program comes just a few weeks before low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines begins flights from XNA to Denver. Allegiant Air, which has offered low-cost flights for years, continues to expand at XNA and starts a new nonstop flight to Nashville this week.

“While existing carriers offer excellent access for area residents, XNA has some of the highest fares in the country, making it a less attractive option,” said Northwest Arkansas Council President and CEO Nelson Peacock. “The price of air travel is a key consideration, but XNA offers significant conveniences over other airports located many miles away, and there are acceptable fares available at XNA. Our goal is to highlight the benefits of XNA and publicize low fares anytime they become available.

“By working independently to grow the number of XNA passengers and ensuring the success of airlines offering affordable flights, we’ll be demonstrating that airlines with low-cost options can thrive at XNA. That benefits our business and leisure travelers.”

Fares at XNA have challenged Northwest Arkansas for years. The average domestic roundtrip costs more than $500 most years, and information kept by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows XNA’s passengers spent $120 to $190 per roundtrip above the national average in each of the past four years. That premium — the gap between the national average and the XNA average — has cost XNA travelers more than $100 million in each of the past four years.

The high fares drive economic impact away from Northwest Arkansas, and they create inconveniences for travelers looking to avoid high fares.  Indeed, high fares are cited most often as the reason passengers fly from other airports. The airport’s “leakage,” which is the percentage of people who choose to drive from where they live near XNA to more distant airports, is near 40 percent.

Driving down the average fare at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport would be a huge economic win for the region’s leisure and business travelers, and that’s why the Northwest Arkansas Council continues to work with XNA officials to attract additional air service. Every $10 reduction in XNA’s average fare saves the airport’s travelers about $8 million a year, and that savings increases as the airport attracts more passengers.

The FareFlightNWA program includes a new website — FareFlightNWA.org — and the program highlights the benefits of flying from XNA. Among the program’s objectives are public presentations and conversations with large employers, small businesses, travel-focused organizations and civic groups about fares and air service at XNA. The Council wants to arm travelers with the best information about XNA before they make travel decisions. 

The FareFlightNWA website includes a cost comparison calculator, allowing visitors to determine the true cost of flying from XNA versus Tulsa and Kansas City airports once gasoline, parking fees and other costs are factored in. The website also includes information about why prioritizing XNA is a direct benefit to the region and how flying from XNA contributes to the local economy.

 “Travelers are price sensitive and they should be,” Peacock said. “We intend to arm people with the information they need to make their travel from XNA more affordable. At the same time, we want to make sure travelers recognize the conveniences to flying from close to home. Ultimately, we hope they choose XNA.”

Public Gets First Look at Planned Walmart Home Office

Walmart shared its first view of the company’s planned new home office in Bentonville earlier today.

Videos shared by the company provide viewers with a samplings of how the new buildings on the 350-acre site east of Bentonville’s downtown area will connect with the rest of the community. There are lakes, paved bike trails, pedestrian paths and tall trees envisioned throughout the campus. The company plans to give its full attention to environmental sustainability.

The company noted that it plans to open the new campus in phases between 2020 and 2024. Demolition, infrastructure and utility construction starts this summer.

Dan Bartlett, an executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart, provides an overview of the project on a Walmart website. A question and answer section on the Walmart website includes some great information.

The home office should be the biggest construction project in the history of Northwest Arkansas.

Walmart Remains Fortune 500's King, but it's J.B. Hunt that's Rising Fast

Walmart remains king of the Fortune 500, but it’s one of Northwest Arkansas’ other leading companies that’s rapidly rising up the annual list.

Fortune magazine put J.B. Hunt Transport Services at No. 354, moving the logistics company up 41 spots from a year ago. Top-ranked Walmart and No. 80 Tyson Foods held the same positions as last year.

The impressive growth of the three companies over decades turned Northwest Arkansas into one of the world’s most important places for business. 

“J.B. Hunt is taking on some of the biggest challenges in the industry while maintaining a tradition of providing safe, reliable transportation and logistics services,” said John Roberts, president and CEO of J.B. Hunt, in a press release. “Our inclusion in this year’s Fortune 500 list demonstrates our commitment to excellence and efficiency as we grow and expand to meet customer needs.”

J.B. Hunt’s 2018 revenue was $8.6 billion, a 19.8 percent increase from the previous year. It first arrived on the Fortune 500 list at No. 485 in 2013, and it’s moved up in every subsequent year.

Yet, it’s the gap on the list between Walmart and No. 2 Exxon-Mobil that’s most incredible about the Fortune 500 list. Exxon-Mobil’s mere $290 billion doesn’t hold a candle to the $514.4 billion received by Walmart in 2018. As Fortune editors noted in some of their online commentary, it doesn’t appear Walmart has much chance of moving back anytime soon.

Walmart, founded in 1962, topped the Fortune 500 for the seventh consecutive year. It’s held the top spot 15 times in all.

No. 80 Tyson Foods increased its revenue to $40.1 billion in 2018, a boost from $38.3 billion in 2017. Tyson Foods’ revenue ranks second among food production companies on the list.

In all, Arkansas has six Fortune 500 companies on the 2019 list: Walmart, Tyson Foods, No. 257 Murphy USA, J.B. Hunt, No. 458 Dillard’s and No. 493 Windstream Holdings.