Walmart's Big Week Boon to Region, Draws National Spotlight

Walmart shareholders’ week shines a national spotlight on Northwest Arkansas, giving the area’s largest employer and the region as a whole a chance to show off what’s here.

The international Walmart guests will begin arriving this weekend, and they’ll be in town all week, leading up to the shareholders’ meeting on Friday, June 6 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The guests — 14,000 people who attend the shareholders’ meeting and other visitors who take advantage of the high-profile concerts that are put on early next week — fill up hotels and make restaurant cash registers ring like crazy.

“The annual Walmart shareholders’ meeting serves to further showcase Bentonville to attendees from throughout the world,” said Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin. “The hospitality industry looks forward to this special week each year. The positive impact on our region's restaurants, shops and hotels is an added touch for an already prosperous economy. Kudos to Walmart for keeping this annual gathering in Northwest Arkansas.”

The first sign that it’s Walmart’s big week arrives this weekend when extra flights start landing at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport to handle the additional passengers arriving in the region. To handle the increased demand, Delta Air Lines has added 10 flights to its schedule this week; American Airlines added nine more inbound flights.

Many of the international passengers traveling to Arkansas for the shareholders’ meeting and other events arrive Sunday and Monday, but the majority of domestic travelers get to town on Tuesday. KFSM, a Northwest Arkansas television station, highlighted the arriving international passengers at the airport in this story just before the 2012 shareholders’ meeting.

Walmart associates will be invited to attend special Walmart concerts at Bud Walton Arena. Those performing include Jason Aldean and Cole Swindell on Tuesday night. Foreigner, Styx and Don Felder take the stage for a Wednesday night concert.

Walmart, which sits atop the Fortune 500 list as the nation’s largest company, traditionally does not reveal which special guests and entertainment superstars will attend the June 6 shareholders’ meeting, but it’s always an inpressive list. Guests at previous shareholders’ meetings include Hugh Jackman, The Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Taylor Swift, Will Smith, Alicia Keyes, Tim McGraw and Enrique Iglesias.

Marilyn Heifner, director of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, said shareholders’ week provides an important economic benefit to the region. She noted that if 20,000 people visit Northwest Arkansas for the annual meeting, the concerts or other activities next week and spend $250 apiece, that’s an impact of $5 million.

To put that spending in perspective, a 2012 study showed out-of-region visitors to an average University of Arkansas football game spent $102 apiece, generating about $4.9 million in visitor spending per game. The football games draw more people to Northwest Arkansas, but they don’t stay as long as Walmart’s guests do.

“Shareholders’ week shows Northwest Arkansas to a national audience,” Heifner said. “You can’t get better publicity than that.”