Influx of Workers Transforms Northwest Arkansas

by Todd Traub  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

Ironically, the presence of bargain-priced Wal-Mart in northwest Arkansas supercharged population growth and the development of decidedly upscale shopping destinations like Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers.

Northwest Arkansas’ growth has included the building of Interstate 540 — championed by former congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt in part to help move materials for Wal-Mart distribution centers — and the opening of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in 1995.

“The only airport at the time was Drake Field in Fayetteville,” Haynes said, noting the old airport was not popular with a certain former Arkansas football coach.

“Lou Holtz used to say, ‘You don’t buy tickets. You buy chances,’” Haynes said.

Without the growing community of retirees, Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers might not exist, Haynes said, nor would massive infrastructure improvements that include miles of fiberoptic cable for communications.

But the Wal-Mart impact is measured by more than just population and construction.

It is measured in the types of people who have come to work for the company and their effect on local demographics. And that has, in turn, impacted the way people in the area dine out or spend their leisure time and what services they use.

In pointing out Bentonville’s Asian population, the Hispanic influence in Rogers and Springdale or Fayetteville’s African-American community, Clifford noted not just the necessity of expanding services but tailoring them to a variety of needs and tastes.

“I see an awful lot of our established businesses here changing the way they look at their commerce,” Clifford said. “I think nobody here even turns their head when they see folks from all over the world. … That’s a part of who we are now.

“I think that when people come here from other countries they get a flavor, not a false sense of welcoming but a sense of this is an area that knows how it is, is comfortable with anybody being part of what they do.”

While goods and services may be tailored to specific elements of a diversifying market, it doesn’t mean native Arkansans haven’t also benefited from the newer, more cosmopolitan way of life.

For evidence, Clifford said, look no further than the critically praised Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in November in Bentonville.

“Up until Nov. 11 it was a very business-oriented town,” Clifford said. “Of course, Crystal Bridges has changed that immensely.”



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