Love ’em or hate ’em, shop there or avoid them, there’s no denying that Southwest Missouri’s fate has for nearly 50 years intertwined with Walmart’s.
The latest news out of Bentonville means that relationship is likely to get much more complex.
Work on Walmart’s new home office campus — more than 20 new buildings on 350 acres of land in Bentonville — is underway. The project also will include lakes, coffee bars, a fitness and child care center, restaurants, a hotel, trails and other amenities. Many of these buildings will be constructed in the next few years, with a goal of opening the campus in phases between 2020 and 2024.
Graham Cobb, president/CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce, called it not only the biggest economic development news for Northwest Arkansas, “but probably the best economic news for Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
“We’re talking about hundreds of millions, getting close to (a billion) in the cost of building, with 15,000 people employed in one spot,” he told us.
Walmart’s plans also sync up with Missouri’s commitment to complete its share of the Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector, also known as the Bella Vista Bypass, by the summer of 2022, bringing Northwest Arkansas that much closer.
Our history with the retailer is deep.
Joplin is the place where Walmart figured out how to ratchet its stores up a notch. The company was not even a decade old when it acquired the former Arlan’s Discount Department Store at 15th Street and Range Line in 1971.
That store presented challenges because it was bigger than any store Walmart had tackled before — nearly twice the size of its typical discount store.
“How do you fill the store up? What do you do to it? What do you expand?” David Glass, who replaced Sam Walton as CEO, told the Globe a number of years ago. “Can you merchandise a store that large?
“We learned how to operate a large store based on Store 59 (Joplin).”
Success in Joplin gave the company the confidence it needed to go forward with a larger format.
McDonald County has for years been considered part of the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area. Walmart also has built a large data center on the Missouri side of the state line, and with the improved highway, expect a growing number of employees commuting from Southwest Missouri.
Of course, no business has had more of an impact on Main streets and mom-and-pop shops and entire towns throughout Missouri and the Midwest than Walmart. That means a lot of Missouri dollars flowing south, helping them build highways, museums, airports, bigger universities and more. But it also means we have many of those amenities in our backyard.
The simple truth is that we’re along for the ride as the first company to push past a half-trillion dollars in revenue reinvents itself to compete with Amazon and others.
Good or bad, worried or thrilled, there’s little we can do about it either.