Wal-Mart is not the only company cranking out wealth in northwest Arkansas. J. B. Hunt Transport, the trucking company, and Tyson Foods...
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart is not the only company cranking out wealth in northwest Arkansas.
J.B. Hunt Transport, the trucking company, and Tyson Foods, both major employers, are based here. But neither has the global reach or supplier network of Wal-Mart.
“Around here, Wal-Mart is the catalyst,” said Bill Schwyhart, a partner at Pinnacle Group, which is developing a $200 million upscale shopping center near Wal-Mart’s headquarters.
And by Wal-Mart, Schwyhart means its vendors.
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In nondescript office parks that have cropped up across the region, the biggest names in consumer goods — Procter & Gamble, Gillette, Nestle and PepsiCo — are packed in cheek by jowl with tiny manufacturers such as Dolly, a children’s clothing firm, and cigar maker Swisher International.
No one knows the exact number of suppliers who have opened shop near Wal-Mart, but local officials put the number at 2,000 and predict the figure could double.
The phenomenon began in 1989 after Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart’s largest supplier, opened a 10-person office in neighboring Fayetteville. Today, P&G’s Wal-Mart staff is 200.
There are 20 office parks dedicated to Wal-Mart vendors. Disney, for example, shares a building with Vivendi-Universal, Welch Food and Sargento Foods. Signs on the office doors read “Wal-Mart-support unit” or “Team Wal-Mart” and, inside, the walls are covered with photos of and quotes from Sam Walton, a tribute designed to catch the attention of visiting Wal-Mart executives more than the supplier’s staff.
A long-running debate rages about whether Wal-Mart encourages its suppliers to operate in the area — Wal-Mart says it takes no position on the issue — but no one underestimates the importance of being in town.
Suppliers who live and work near Wal-Mart’s headquarters can schedule last-minute meetings with buyers, hand-deliver samples of products at all hours and cultivate strong personal ties with company executives.
Now suppliers and buyers live on the same street, attend the same churches and coach the same little-league teams.
“Suppliers know that if they don’t have a presence here, their competitors will,” said Chuck Sharpe, whose company, C. Sharpe Real Estate Group, owns eight Bentonville office parks occupied by Wal-Mart vendors. “They can’t afford that.”