Walmart is expanding its retail empire in Bentonville, Arkansas with a 350-acre campus

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A once-sleepy Arkansas city has now become the epicenter of the country’s largest retail empire. Since its 1962 founding, Walmart has not only transformed its headquarters in Bentonville, but along with it, the South Central burg it inhabits. With plans to open a new 350-acre campus only two miles from its original office next year, the big-box chain has its sights set on moonshot growth.

Drawing inspiration from Microsoft’s elaborate Seattle headquarters, as well as Pepsi and Chick-fil-a in Atlanta, Walmart’s new campus will be more than just a functional work space. It will house a fitness center, childcare facility, and hotel, with a web of bike paths running through it. The revamped campus is a radical refresh from the company’s 1962 headquarters of a warehouse and notoriously drab office space with few windows. Even the Walmart Museum, housed in some of the company’s original store locations, is getting a facelift, with a new interactive, life-sized hologram of founder Sam Walton, who died in 1992.

If you were to ignore Walmart’s presence in the area (though hard to do with its headquarters and nine retail locations within the city’s 34 square miles), Bentonville is a haven for mountain bikers and tourists frequenting its quaint art museum scene. While Walmart doesn’t necessarily disrupt those features, its presence in the area has caused tectonic shifts in Bentonville itself: The population of the municipality reached 58,000 in 2022, up from 36,000 in 2010, with 4.6% of the population having expatriated from another state in 2022, per the U.S. Census Bureau

Other businesses have coalesced around Walmart’s large footprint. More than 1,300 of the company’s suppliers are now based in Northwest Arkansas. Beyond a growing network of bike paths funded by the Walton family, Bentonville’s housing has also grown by 150%. Restaurants and stores have popped up to accommodate the metro’s growing population.

“When I moved here in 2005, people bought a meal coming into a meeting at Walmart and bought a meal leaving that meeting,” Kalene Griffith, president of tourist site Visit Bentonville, told Business Insider. “We had one retailer and two restaurants downtown. Now, we have 16 restaurants and eight retailers.”

But the Bentonville boom takes a back seat to the real reason behind Walmart’s headquarter transformation. As the retail royal keeps its throne warm at the top of the Fortune 500 for the 12 years in a row, aiming to top its $648 billion in 2023 revenue and keep nudging ahead of Target and Amazon, Walmart has lofty goals for its company home.

“Hands down, this is a recruitment and retention play which will pull more of the talent of tomorrow to come to Northwest Arkansas,” Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart’s senior vice president of corporate real estate, told Bloomberg.

Walmart’s corporate frenzy

Walmart’s budding anticipation for its new space comes in tandem with a frenzy of actions to strengthen the ranks of its corporate staff. Last month the company announced it was cutting hundreds of corporate jobs and asking employees to return to in-person work, with most relocating to Bentonville, part of a greater effort to “strengthen our culture as well as grow and develop our associates,” per the company’s memo.

Last year Walmart announced in a corporate blog post it was eliminating certain wording in job descriptions emphasizing college degrees, and instead stressing skills associated with particular positions. It expanded healthcare benefits for its corporate employees weeks later. Further cementing its commitment to recruiting and retaining employees across the company, Walmart announced Wednesday that 700,000 of its hourly workers are eligible for bonuses up to $1,000.

The retailer’s souped-up campus is simply the latest incentive to entice corporate and prospective employees to its headquarters.

“In today’s workplace and continuing forward, those amenities matter,” Marsiglio said. “They speak to how employers are investing in our associates and our families.”

While Walmart has made a concerted effort to lure its employees to the heart of its empire, it may also be making it harder for Bentonville natives to remain in their hometown. Bentonville has over 200 more homes over a million dollars than it did a decade ago. Compared to the state’s annual median household income of $55,432, Bentonville’s median household income hovers around $99,000, CNBC reported. Despite this, the town is willing to embrace the big change.

“There’s always going to be unintended consequences of growth,” Brandom Gengelbach, CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce, told CNBC. “What this has been able to bring to people’s property values, what it brings in terms of amenities, the education system we have here—it’s far beyond any of the negatives.”



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