Commerce & Industry Trail
The Arkansas-3rd has been represented by Congressman Steve Womack since 2011.
Cities & Towns in Arkansas-3 include:
- Fort Smith
Coming up with topics to lead off each district profile has been a no-brainer for the early posts of this blog.. In successive entries we’ve looked at the congressional districts that surround The Smithsonian Institution and The Grand Canyon and I’m guessing there are not many people thinking…”I can’t believe he decided to write about that.” This post may be a bit different as its lead-in focus is one of the world’s most polarizing companies…Walmart.
You may not be a fan, I know many people that are not. There are widespread arguments that Walmart doesn’t pay its employees enough; that it engages in trade practices that are unfair to its suppliers and that it has hurt small businesses and perhaps costs millions of jobs across the country by making it impossible for small-town stores to compete. Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to criticism of Walmart and I find some of the evidence convincing and the arguments compelling, but you can follow the link and decide what to believe for yourself.
Regardless, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is still, in fact, the world’s largest (as in Planet Earth) company and private employer. 2.2 million people work for the organization worldwide and it is annually at the top of the Fortune Global 1000 list with revenues of $485 billion in the last fiscal year. Walmart is also the major, if not only, shopping option in many rural parts of the country and the largest private employer in some states. If I didn’t start a series of posts (the Commerce & Industry Trail) about game-changing successful businesses in the U.S. congressional districts by profiling the Arkansas 3rd, I’m not sure where I would start.
The district, which makes up most of Northwest Arkansas, has become a global leader in logistics and supply chain management – the very seeds that Sam Walton used to build his empire and Wal-Mart was only the beginning. Two other Fortune-500 companies, Tyson Foods (#83) and J.B. Hunt Transport Services (#434) are headquartered within a half-hour’s drive of Wal-Mart’s Home Office and all three companies have contributed to major programs at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which has a leading business school and logistics program endowed by Sam Walton and a new research building named for J.B. Hunt. The area, not surprisingly, has benefited from this growth financially. As of the 2010 Census, Benton County’s median household income was 28% higher than the state average. So – I’d like to see the region that Sam Walton built, from its epicenter.
One Great Day in the Arkansas-3rd
A note about this section. One day isn’t long enough to spend in any district – it’s not nearly long enough to really understand the place and everything that makes it unique. But time for both real and virtual expeditions is often limited so I’ve chosen a day to try to encapsulate what the district is like. If you go…and have longer to spend, you should.
Furthermore, these are just the things my family and I would find interesting, many of which I’ve never been to – you probably would find and suggest others. Let us know where it says Leave a Reply at the bottom of the page or better yet, drop us a line if you’d like to write a guest post about any district.
The day would begin, though, in Fort Smith, insert sotto voce here… at a bordello. Miss Laura’s is the only brothel registered in the National Register of Historic Places and it now serves as the Fort Smith Visitors Center.
The Fort Smith National Historic Site commemorates a Fort that, for most of the 19th century, served as the primary outpost of the U.S. Marshalls at the edge of Indian Territory. In fact, the Department of the Interior has selected the area to be the location of a new United States Marshalls Service National Museum, which is now in its planning stages.
Currently the park offers what looks to be an excellent walking tour that takes visitors about 1.5 miles to view various sites around the park including a section along the Arkansas River known as the Trail of Tears overlook and a stop into the basement jail of the federal courthouse that became known infamously as the “Hell on the Border Jail.” Here’s a bit of how the Park Service site describes the visit of Anna Dawes, a Senator’s daughter, who ended up getting the jail closed.
“To Anna the jail was a ‘piece of medieval barbarity.’ The only opportunity for washing was a one half bucket of water in each cell. A single chamber pot served each cell. The air in the basement was suffocating. Hoping to make the air more bearable, the flagstones of the floor were constantly wet down, making the air heavy with rising steam and dampness.”
By two years later, prisoners had been moved to a new facility.
An hour up Interstate 49 from Fort Smith we come to Fayetteville, the home of the University of Arkansas. Although the Razorbacks (aka Hogs) have very successful football and basketball teams as well as a nationally recognized track program, it’s academics on my mind in planning this stop. The Sam Walton College of Business and the J.B. Hunt Center for Academic Excellence mentioned above are near each other. I’d like to see what there is to see and then walk across campus (past the football stadium) to the John Tyson Poultry Science Center. I’ve spent most of the past 20 helping organizations with Strategic Talent Management and Talent Acquisition. To invest in building education programs that will produce the next generation of talent these organizations need to compete seems to me to be fundamentally good business, as well as a very good thing for the country.
Another 10 miles up the road in Springdale we will come to the home of the Class-AA professional baseball team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Arvest Ballpark opened in 2008, the same year my son was born and by which time I had given up any hope of keeping up my status of having seen every Major League affiliated professional stadium. But since we’re here…
The stadium was designed by the same Kansas City-based architecture firm that designed Camden Yards, Coors Field and now several minor league stadiums. It looks like it represents what Minor League baseball has become – a replica of the major league experience – complete with comfortable seats, often very good food and dot races all at a fraction of the price of major league ballparks and conveniently located to dozens of smaller cities around the country. If we had longer, I’d definitely want to stay for a game.
Another half hour’s drive will take us to the place that started the growth of this area, Bentonville. The Walmart Museum, located on Bentonville’s central square, encompasses Sam Walton’s original 5&10 as well as a gallery of exhibits and a Café Soda Fountain. The online tour of the museum is impressive, I’d like a chance to see it firsthand. I’d also like to drive by the “Home Office,” famously referred to as such, instead of headquarters, by all who interact with the company. Thousands of Walmart shareholders converged on the area just last week for the company’s annual shareholders week. Amid the speeches and projections, they found time for several concerts at Bud Walton arena in Fayetteville including Lynryd Skynyrd, Lifehouse and Train.
After an afternoon spent at a 5&10, an old school family dinner seems required. I remember seeing Village Inns in lots of little towns when I was growing up but am somewhat embarrassed to say I didn’t think they existed anymore. Turns out they do, across most of the Midwest and a few other states. As I was looking around at the Best of the Best of Northwest Arkansas rankings I saw that Village Inn was listed as winner of “2014 Best Pie.” Perfect, done – on this evening you’d find the Craibs knee deep in Village Inn classics….before the pie, of course.
More Days? – More Things to See and Know in the Arkansas-3rd
- Arkansas Razorbacks – if school’s in session..the Hogs will be playing something
- A Northwest Naturals Game
- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – Impressive art museum on 120 acres in Bentonville with free admission sponsored by Wal-Mart
- Arkansas-Route 7 – A bit east of the area covered here, a drive through the Ozarks listed in National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime
- Dogpatch USA – The ruins and planned revival of a 70s era theme park based on the Lil Abner comic strip (Marble Falls)
What Seems to Matter Here:
There are a couple of reasons why writing this section has turned out to be the most challenging aspect of this blog so far. One is that 710,000 people is a lot. That’s the number of citizens meant to make up each of
the House districts and with that many people there are naturally many answers to this question. The second is I’m trying to do it from a computer a thousand miles away (this is where you come in – by the way – if you know someone who lives in the district please pass this site on and ask them to weigh in.) But sometimes I can find something like the Northwest Arkansas Community Survey and it helps a lot.
This survey was conducted by the Community & Family Institute at the University of Arkansas in 2010. The group polled about 1,300 residents in several areas related to quality of life. To very briefly summarize a 76-page report, the survey found that most people were quite happy with their way of life. This corroborates a variety of business and industry publications that rank the area on “Best places to” lists related to careers and livability.
The primary places the survey highlighted as areas the residents would like to see improve were wages and a few issues related to growth in the area. Although, as mentioned earlier, the two counties that make up most of this area are well above the Arkansas average in median family income, it is still less than the national average and, as explained in Finding America, the national median income of just under $52,000 in 2013 is very difficult to raise a family on and save for the future. The growth issues listed in the survey include coming up grips with an increasingly ethnically diverse population and a perception among families new to the area that they don’t fit in. Transportation issues, particularly the need for public transportation options to alleviate congestion were also cited.
Congressman Womack, meanwhile, has been in the news recently as one of the targets of John Oliver’s HBO program Last Week Tonight. As part of a segment on the chicken farming industry, Oliver blamed Rep. Womack for spearheading a rider that has been introduced each year in the Agricultural Appropriations Bill that blocks the USDA from enforcing a new set of rules protecting chicken farmers. Despite the fact that the story was reported fairly widely, this link has a nice explanation of the issue, I’ve not been able to find any comment from the congressman.
Riders like this one are an example of why policy making is so slow in Congress and how special interests skew the political process. The US Department of Agriculture is directed by law to make policy governing its industry – holding funding hostage by adding riders to its appropriations bill is backroom politics at its worst. See Voter’s Pledge #3 and Take the Pledge!
The History trail begins in the Massachusetts-8th
The Commerce & Industry Trail heads north to the Missouri-7th next week.