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Benefits elude Bentonville; empty industrial park points out problems in home of Wal-Mart.

WHILE WAL-MART Stores Inc. has enjoyed enormous prosperity, the city in which it is headquartered has not reaped many of the benefits of the boom the region is experiencing.

This is best illustrated by the Bentonville Industrial Park.

The city purchased the 104-acre site on Southeast J Street more than a decade ago and began actively trying to develop it about five years ago. The result: a vacant field. The only sign of activity in the park is a new 50,000-SF speculative building on the park's northwest corner being built by the city in an attempt to attract some company to the locale.

Growing pains have affected the entire region, but Bentonville seems to have felt more of the strain.

With the phenomenal growth of Wal-Mart, there has been a massive influx of people into the area using community services. However, many do not live in the city and therefore are not bearing any of the burden.

"The problem is people around us who don't live here but use the city are putting a strain on our services," says Bentonville Mayor Don O'Neal.

Due to limited financial resources because of the squeeze on city services, Bentonville has not been able to offer some of the incentives other area communities have to attract industry.

For example, when Bekaert Corp. decided to locate a new $200 million steel cord plant in the area, it narrowed its focus to Rogers and Bentonville. Rogers didn't have a vacant industrial park ready to be developed but was able to offer a major new water line directly to the plant, plus the supporting water storage facilities. In addition, Carroll County Electric Cooperative offered to build Bekaert its own substation to provide guaranteed uninterrupted electrical power.

Bentonville could not counter the offer and Rogers won out on one of the largest single investments ever made in a plant in Arkansas.

"Bentonville had the property but really didn't have the resources to develop the amenities," O'Neal says. "Rogers had the money but didn't have the property, and Bentonville was not able to compete with that and Rogers got the call."

Ironically, O'Neal was employed by the city of Rogers as an assistant waste and sewer superintendent at the time and was one of those enlisted to lobby the Belgian firm to locate the plant there.

More Concerns

Other problems have hurt the city's recruiting efforts. For example, Bentonville is currently under a consent agreement issued by the state Department of Pollution Control & Ecology requiring the city to complete a major sewer rehabilitation program at a cost of $17.4 million. The industrial park still does not have sewer service, and it is not expected to reach the site until 1995.

"I just don't think we've had some of the things we've needed to attract new business," says Curt Loyd, executive director of the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce. "Utilities have been one problem to a degree ... We haven't been able to develop as much as we could because of the limited area served by the sewers."

O'Neal says some councilmen are interested in growth but "there is still an attitude among many people who would like to keep this town a sleepy village."

The industrial park spec building seems to signify that Bentonville is out to correct its problems.

"Bentonville is beginning to put its money where its mouth is," O'Neal says. "It is recognizing the need to be progressive and understanding that if we don't do that, nothing will happen. The spec building was a gutsy move and it raised some eyebrows, but that's the kind of thing that gets things off dead-center."

Also, recent and future infrastructure improvements are under way. The city is nearing completion of a $6 million water project and a $3 million electrical upgrade project. Bidding for the sewer extension to the industrial park goes out in January. Several companies have expressed interest in locating at the industrial park, and the city also has some companies interested in occupying the spec building.

"We're addressing the infrastructure problems associated with growth, and when you do that you're addressing industry's needs," O'Neal says.
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Title Annotation:Bentonville Industrial Park, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Author:Tobler, Christopher
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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