story by Kim Souza
After more than a year of planning, TEDx Bentonville came to fruition Thursday (Oct. 11) with nearly 100 local business professionals taking part.
Clint Lazenby, one of the core team members who helped organize the event, said last year a small group of volunteers came together to start a movement to advance ideas “worth spreading”.
He said it took some planning and coordination to get the globally recognized TED organization to endorse the local event, with a license for TEDx. The TEDx brand is a local program, self-organized event that brings people together in the spirit of ideas worth spreading.
Entrepreneur Andy Murray emceed the events saying he became a fan of TED in 2004 when he was asked to go to New Zealand for a course in public speaking. For three days he was asked to watch TED videos, which he said proved invaluable in his professional career.
There were five brief TED videos on various topics mixed in between the 12 local speakers who were asked to discuss ‘becoming’ – a theme chosen by the core team because it reflects how we feel about ourselves, our neighbors, organizations and community.
Lazenby said while the region has a rich past, it is so much more today and yet it’s not clear exactly why, how, when or what we are becoming.
“Our group was inspired by the tremendous growth and change currently taking place in our Northwest Arkansas Community,” said Jennifer Schiele, event co-organizer.
A common theme in the first few speakers was how they grew up here or nearby, couldn’t wait to leave, but were eventually drawn back this region for various reasons.
“I grew up on a chicken farm here and I remember scrubbing chicken wire all the time saying to myself ‘I am getting out here as soon as I can,'" said Becky Howard, a seventh generation native of Bentonville.
Howard is a local historian and doctoral candidate at the University of Arkansas who shared a colorful perspective on the long tradition of innovation and reinvention in Northwest Arkansas.
She said it’s not surprising the region is a place of higher learning given the Cherokee ran an inter-racial female seminary in Fayetteville prior to the Civil War. Howard said it was the tradition for higher learning which helped Fayetteville secure the University of Arkansas some years later.
Howard said the entire region has found a way to sustain and reinvent itself time and time again:
• 1880 tobacco powerhouse resort area at Monte Ne by 1920, trucking
• 1900 apple orchards
• 1920s and 1930s resort areas at Monte Ne and Bella Vista
• 1940s trucking
• 1950s and 1960s poultry
• 1970s retail
Jeff Amerine, entrepreneur and UA adjunct professor, took the stage to discuss the “Idea Movement” he sees happening across this region and what it feels like to emerge from a “flyover state wilderness” perception held by outsiders for so many years.
He said the idea movement is happening now and the rest of the world is starting to take note.
Fast Company magazine ranked Northwest Arkansas one of 10 “hotbeds of innovation” across the country earlier this year.“
Amerine said Entrepreneur online tagged Northwest Arkansas as one of nine “unexpected emerging areas for start-ups. And the Kauffman Foundation ranks Arkansas No. 15 for entrepreneurship.
“We are the beginning of the beginning of a really interesting movement in the state and we have all the right ingredients here at work.” Amerine said.
Economists, academics and business professionals agree the entrepreneurial community will likely be the next catalyst for sustainable job creation in this region.
Amerine said there are creative collisions taking place between a millennial generation of young talent that seem to posses a healthy impatience for waiting their turn. He said they didn’t ask anyone if they could or should champion their own ideas — they just did it. The result has been a flurry of activity and conversation between top down support and innovative thinkers at the grassroots level. That conversation between the two demographics is where magic happens, according to Amerine.
He shared his favorite quote from a local visionary, “Don’t ever let anyone build a fence around our dreams," a quote from Johnnie Bryan Hunt.
Amerine said that spirit is very much alive today across this region.