Governor greets Walmart supplier hopefuls in “capital for a day” kickoff in Bentonville

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivers opening remarks on Tuesday Oct. 24 2023 at the annual Walmart Open Call event at the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville. Go to for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

BENTONVILLE — Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders began her Bentonville “capital for a day” events Tuesday by greeting 700 visitors drawn from 50 states at the Walmart Stores Inc. “Open Call Day.”

She ended the day by meeting with more than 200 supporters at a Bentonville restaurant, where she introduced members of her cabinet who had accompanied her in visits throughout the day with local leaders.

Walmart brings representatives from businesses around the country to its Bentonville headquarters to let them make a pitch to the company to sell their products at Walmart stores. The 700 or more prospects were joined by another 200 or so associates and others at Tuesday’s 9 a.m. opening gathering in the two-day event. The company has invited the state’s governor every year since the beginning, company spokesman Kevin Gardner said.

Sanders chose to attend in person, making her greeting the first in a daylong schedule of meetings with local leaders in Bentonville. The governor thanked Walmart for the company’s commitment to Arkansas.

“For those who are from out of town, you’ve probably seen here in Northwest Arkansas, our state’s economy is absolutely booming,” Sanders said. “Our unemployment rate reached a record low earlier this year. More Arkansans are working than ever before. Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. And all across the state, thousands are moving here from everywhere.

“It has literally never been a better time to visit Arkansas, invest in Arkansas, or move to Arkansas.”

Mike Townsend of Knoxville, Tenn., said the region compares favorably to his home near the Smoky Mountains.

“I’ve been all over the country,” said Townsend, president of BDry Towel Inc. “The region reminds me of upstate New York and the pretty parts of New Jersey.” He also said Sanders impressed him as “very pragmatic and down to Earth. She was raised right.”

John Furner, president of Walmart’s U.S. operations, and Andrea Albright, Walmart’s vice president of sourcing, were among the executives greeting the business prospects. Albright told the crowd attracting local suppliers was such a success, the company has similar efforts in Mexico, Chile and India now for stores in those nations.

After the Walmart event, Sanders visited Mary Mae Jones Elementary School at 10:15 a.m. along with state Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva. She then toured the Northwest Arkansas Armed Forces Reserve Center.

At 1 p.m., she met with members of The CALL, a Bentonville nonprofit group that helps foster children in the state, along with members of the Benton County Support Center of the state Division of Children and Family Services.

The governor then toured Ledger, an office development downtown, and later met with tourism advocates at Airship Coffee.

The final event was a meet-and-greet with more than 200 constituents at the Table at the Hickory Inn restaurant.

The governor reiterated her goal of continuing to chip away at the state income tax “until we get to zero.”

The morning manufacturing call and evening meet-and-greet were the only two events open to the press. The governor took no questions at either event.

“I like what she says, I like what she does and I like that she does what she says,” said Amy Jackson of Rogers, who attended the afternoon event, after the governor’s remarks.

Bentonville is the second city designated by Sanders as state capital for a day. Mena was capital for a day on Friday.