NWA Aims Message At Site Selectors

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 24, 2014 12:00 am  

Mike Harvey, COO of the Northwest Arkansas Council: “It’s hard to field fly balls without a glove. Companies don’t shop by city; they shop by region.” (Photo by Beth Hall)

“Northwest Arkansas has become a brand in itself,” Boyette said. “Companies don’t see city limits or county lines. Promoting the region is critical. When something good happens in one, it’s good for the others.”

Benton said retail operators know all about northwest Arkansas because of retail giant Wal-Mart, and Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transportation are also well known. But there is a perception that northwest Arkansas is three huge companies, a state university and a bunch of mountains and “perception is reality,” Benton said.

Changing perception is important.

“There’s a lot more going on in northwest Arkansas,” Benton said. “It’s like Little Rock’s little brother.”

Boyette, who was born in Nashville (Howard County), is working with the city of Bentonville as a consultant to help put together an overall strategic plan for the city’s economic development. A city like Bentonville, Boyette said, needs to promote what sets it apart — cultural things such the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The cultural amenities can play important roles in a world of hard numbers. For every executive or vendor who relocates to an area, there is usually a family who relocates with him.

“You can do all kinds of statistical studies, but what’s the culture of the community,” Benton said. “That stuff works. Until they showed me pictures of the art museum, I had no idea that was there. Executives are fearful spouses will not be happy in a place.”

That’s one of the biggest goals of the fam tours in Harvey’s eyes. Yes, site selectors can find the cold hard facts about the region through data mining and Internet research, but what is the place really like?

If northwest Arkansas doesn’t do it, it will fall behind those areas that are not so modest. The region had the fourth-best rate of job growth by percentage in 2013, and a big reason for that was when Serco, which handles federal health care applications, opened a facility in Rogers and ended up hiring about 1,600 people.

“You get a big one every now and then,” Harvey said. “It’s hyper-competitive. Some communities are not going to want to do what’s necessary, ‘Why go hunting buffalo when you’ve got it all in your backyard?’ I believe some of my communities would go to the mat for the right company.”

Clark said the feedback he has received has been positive and cities and the region have to “keep promoting our story.” Harvey said it’s not a campaign of quick results and nothing is guaranteed, but improving the odds just a little is worth the expense.

“It’s a straight-up marathon,” Harvey said. “It can be a terribly long, drawn-out process. It’s just one of the legs of the stool, but it pays dividends for years and years and years.”



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