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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat Gazette FILE PHOTO/SPENCER TIREY Public Parking sign on SW A street in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE -- The first wave of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce's newest economic development initiative brought 20 people from a dozen companies to the town to see what it offers.

The prospects came in October during Outerbike, a consumer-focused event showcasing the latest bikes and cycling accessories. The chamber is still in contact with a couple of businesses with hopes they will move to Bentonville, said Graham Cobb, chamber president and CEO.

Because Bentonville

Graham Cobb, Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, created #BecauseBentonville shortly after he was hired as the chamber’s leader in the fall 2017. It’s used to identify unique experiences combining small-town charm with national or international influence, “metropolitan and main street,” he said. The chamber is using Because Bentonville stories to engage with prospective entrepreneurs in its new economic development strategy.

Source: Staff report

"That's a patient play," he said.

Those who came were a portion of the 87 invitations the chamber sent to businesses in multiple cities, including Austin, Texas, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The economic development initiative, called Because Bentonville, uses data to target prospective entrepreneurs with a vested interest in certain quality of life features the city says it's becoming known for.

The data comes from LinkedIn profiles and information from marketing videos and photographs to target audiences. The media posts illustrate opportunities making Bentonville stand out.

The first round of marketing focused on mountain biking.

Media posts sent viewers to a website where they were encouraged to fill out a form to provide the chamber with more information about them and their companies.

The chamber used the forms to decide whom to invite. Invitations included information about the city's mountain biking trails and the Outerbike event.

A QR code launched a 360-degree virtual reality experience in a virtual reality headset, which was included with the invitation. The viewer rode through a series of trails concluding at the 8th Street Market.

Initiatives such as Because Bentonville complement the work of the Northwest Arkansas Council, whose focus has been more on the organic growth of business than on business recruitment, said Mike Harvey, the group's chief operating officer.

Harvey got a peek at one of the invitation boxes before they were sent out.

"It's really cool. It's really unique," he said. "Campaigns like this can be pretty effective in terms of getting people's attention."

The invitation got the attention of Jeff Dahnert, co-founder of OptOut Cycles. The Lawrence, Kan.-based company builds mountain bike frames.

Dahnert said he and his business partner had intentions of visiting Bentonville at some point -- hearing the hype about its trails in the cycling industry -- and the chamber's invitation removed any excuse for them not to check it out.

They didn't exactly know the motivation behind the invite when they headed down, Dahnert said. They met with a Walton Family Foundation representative and a couple other local business owners the first night.

Business owners who moved their companies to Bentonville joined Dahnert and other invitees for breakfast Saturday morning. They spoke of Bentonville's virtues and the culture they were trying to create, Dahnert said.

"That's when we started to see, OK, they're looking to bring companies in," he said.

The sell was soft, encouraging participants to enjoy what Bentonville has to offer then explaining what the vision was for the city's culture, Dahnert said.

"It made a very good impression. We'll definitely go back," he said. "It's something that we'll keep in mind as the business grows."

Cobb said the Because Bentonville initiative shares some recommendations such as diversifying the economy of the Bentonville Blueprint, a five-year economic development plan adopted in 2015.

The city's economy has become increasingly diverse over the last several years with the opening of restaurants and entertainment and recreational venues, said Shelli Kerr, interim economic and community development director.

A diverse economy has several benefits from ensuring stability, offering residents a variety of employment options, providing larger industries with necessary supporting businesses and stimulating an economic environment infused with creativity and innovation, she said.

NW News on 01/07/2019

Print Headline: Bentonville group seeks to recruit business

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