Graham Cobb, a former Arkansas Business Publishing Group executive, became president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce in November 2017. Cobb, 43, had worked the previous four years as the chief operating officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. He joined ABPG in 2007 as an account executive and eventually was associate publisher of Little Rock Soiree.
A native of Little Rock, Cobb started his professional career in the pizza business, eventually becoming operations director for Jim’s Razorback Pizza.
How competitive is the economic development landscape these days?
In the race for talent, very. We’re in a hyper mobile economy. Often the smartest and most skilled workers can do their job from anywhere. Then best-prepared communities will be the biggest winners.
Are there any common misconceptions about the area?
It’s difficult to fathom how cosmopolitan we are until you spend some time on our trails, in our restaurants, immersed in art and culture. We’re a global community that buzzes with an exciting energy. We’re an increasingly diverse community and that is reflected in our daily lives, in how, where and with whom we gather, as well as what we do when together.
How much has the cooperation between the larger cities of northwest Arkansas helped the area as a whole?
We punch above our weight class because we plan our work and work our plan with a regional focus and collective effort. This allows us to bring economic amenities like XNA and the Bella Vista Bypass to fruition and gives a cohesion to our individual communities.
How does Bentonville set itself apart from the rest of NWA?
Each major city in the area has its own flavor and those flavors come together for a wonderful regional recipe. Bentonville boasts what we call “widescreen livin’” — a 360-degree experience revealing a past, present and future that connects us to nature, to the world and to each other by organically weaving arts and culture, the outdoors, culinary excellence and the power of relationships into people’s everyday lives.
I know this because I live this. I can mountain bike the best single-track in the world from my front door to my desk. I can wander the rooms of Crystal Bridges with William, grab ice cream at the Spark with Sissy and have a date night with Lisa in award-winning restaurants. That’s a full human experience, and a high-level one, that doesn’t cause me to sacrifice personal economic success.
What game-changing moments occurred on your career path that led to your current position?
Someone at UA Little Rock picked up the phone and called me to ask me to finish my degree [in sociology]. That changed my life trajectory.
Multiple leaders in multiple divisions at ABPG invested time in me. I learned audience development, the value of good content (and what that looks like), how to identify and qualify prospects, how to make the sale, how to build a budget, how to report on financials. When I showed up, my skill set was basically: makes great pizza, plays guitar proficiently at times, seems to have some “want to.”
Jay Chessir at the Little Rock Regional Chamber took a big chance when he hired me. He’s passionate about the work and I think he saw I would be as well. I had very little “chamber” experience, but after about nine hours of conversations, he looked at me and said, “You’ve been doing chamber work your whole life.”