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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo customers enter a Walmart store at 406 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff) - Photo by Flip Putthoff

Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville will be oddly quiet today without the crowds of Walmart Inc. employees and shareholders normally gathered there on the first Friday in June for the retailer's annual star-studded celebration.

The event that draws thousands from around the world to Northwest Arkansas was canceled this year, for the first time since its inception, over concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bentonville retailer announced the cancellation on April 3.

The gala caps nearly a week of concerts, tours and other activities throughout Benton and Washington counties. Steve Clark, president and chief executive officer of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said the economic impact of what's become known as shareholders week affects every city along Northwest Arkansas' Interstate 49 corridor.

But putting a dollar figure on that impact is problematic, Clark explained. That's because sales taxes collected in Fayetteville don't reflect sales taxes collected in other Northwest Arkansas cities.

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"Some attendees go to Arvest Ballpark and that revenue is reported in Springdale's sales tax," Clark said. "Some go to the AMP and that is Rogers' sales tax, and some go to Crystal Bridges and that is Bentonville's sales tax."

Even looking at sales-tax revenue in Fayetteville the month of the meeting can be misleading, Clark said. "Usually there are other events going on in Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas which contribute to that number," he said.

However, Clark did arrive at a ballpark estimate of the total spent by shareholders based on a 2012 study by the University of Arkansas' Center for Business and Economic Research.

The study examined the economic impact of UA athletics by sport. The amount spent by out-of-area visitors per person per day at football games in 2011 averaged $101.87 and included only expenditures outside the stadium such as at restaurants, gasoline stations and other retailers.

Clark multiplied that number by 15,000 -- an estimate of the number of out-of-town visitors who attend Walmart's celebration each year -- for a rounded figure of $1.5 million. Assuming a typical stay of five days, the total estimated impact in Fayetteville alone would be about $7.5 million.

Still, other benefits to the region are even more valuable, Clark said.

"One of the things we miss out of this is the ability to showcase Fayetteville and to showcase Northwest Arkansas," Clark said. "We're always looking out for new and gifted talent -- young professionals, young adults. And we're looking for diversity."

"There's no other event that we as a community or we as a region can stage that brings these kinds of people into our midst that have these talents. If we were trying to reach 15,000 people from 30 countries around the world, we don't have a budget that would come anywhere close to touching that," Clark said.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove confirmed this is the first time the shareholders meeting has been canceled since its humble beginnings in a coffee shop, as Walmart founder Sam Walton described in his memoir. That gathering was held before Walmart's first official meeting as a publicly held company on April 28, 1971, at the Coachman's Inn in Little Rock, Hargrove said.

The annual celebration eventually found its home at Bud Walton Arena, on the University of Arkansas campus, in 1994.

Hargrove couldn't say what celebrities were lined up to serve as host and entertainers this year because that information is kept top-secret until the actual event. No one -- besides the planning team, presumably -- knows until that morning. It's a big surprise to everyone, he said.

Hosts in recent years have included such A-list names as Hugh Jackman, Justin Timberlake and Queen Latifah. The four-hour event's finale always features Grammy-winning stars, including Beyonce, Katy Perry and the Black-Eyed Peas.

Business on 06/05/2020

Print Headline: Silenced Walmart fest echoes in NW

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