The Bentonville Boom: Wal-Mart Leads Region To Explosive Growth

About 1,000 people a month move to Benton County, Ark., to work with or for Wal-Mart, as the boom in Bentonville attests.

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It begs the question: In an area so tied to Wal-Mart, who shops Target? Plenty, apparently, as the lot was a respectable three-quarters full on a Saturday this spring.

“My wife loves Target,” Hawkins said. “She likes the wide aisles and the selection. It doesn’t seem so cluttered with stuff piled in the aisles like you’re seeing at Wal-Mart.”

Not to be outdone, Wal-Mart is plunking a second supercenter in Rogers, its sixth in a 30-mile radius already rife with Neighborhood Markets and discount formats.

Needless to say, Wal-Mart stores are such community institutions here it’s difficult to imagine saturation. On Bentonville High prom night, bored couples strolled the aisles in taffeta and tuxedos, checking out televisions and stereo equipment as if Wal-Mart was the only place to wait for the party to start.

To put a scope on all the construction activity, Rogers issued a record $128 million worth of construction permits in 2002. This year, permitting is up 63 percent over last year, according to chamber statistics.

“There is not a better ‘if you build it, they will come’ story in America,” Rogers mayor Steve Womack crowed.

Many locals believe the real gold rush is yet to come, mostly because of lagging data that misses the nearly 30,000 people that have already arrived. Nearly 50,000 more are expected in the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the next two years.

The Latino population, in particular, has exploded. The group has gone from less than 1 percent of Benton County’s population a decade ago to 8.8 percent in 2000. Rogers has seen its Latin minority leap from less than 1 percent to 19 percent in that period, according to Burns at the chamber of commerce.

Despite these statistics, many national retailers are absent from the region. Ann Taylor, The Limited, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Wilson’s Leather, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and PacSun all lack an outlet within 50 miles of Bentonville, according to their Web sites.

Most of the growth is propelled by “Vendorville,” the estimated 500 to 600 vendor branch offices clustered within a five-mile radius of Wal-Mart’s headquarters.
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