story by Kim Souza
Wal-Mart shareholders week is a global affair with 5,000 delegates visiting from 27 countries and every state where Wal-Mart operates under 71 banners. The Wal-Mart representatives began arriving at Northwest Arkansas Airport on Saturday, and the company estimates that 14,000 will attend Friday’s (June 6) shareholders meeting.
The group from Massmart, Wal-Mart’s South African venture, sang, danced and waved their national flags as they made their way down the escalator into the main lobby area at the airport on Saturday. This is third year Massmart employees have traveled to Bentonville for the annual meetings.
“The associates chosen to attend have a full week of activities. The majority of them are arriving on Sunday (June 1). They are housed at the University of Arkansas and they will attend meetings and tour the area ahead of Friday’s annual shareholder event,” said Kayla Whaling, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart said there will be 30 buses of delegates and media that will be shuttled around the region throughout the week. They visit stores, the Walmart Museum, the Bentonville Square, the University of Arkansas and other areas of interest.
Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers see the majority of the economic benefit from the annual event that will draw around 14,000 to Fayetteville for Friday’s (June 6) shareholder meeting at Bud Walton Arena.
The University of Arkansas expects to earn about $1.26 million for the week. That breaks down to $436,000 from the use of its dorm facilities, according to Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations at the UA. He said there will be 4,500 Wal-Mart guests staying on campus, as the retailer has reserved 2,250 room at a nightly rate of $28.
Food services for the week will also rake in about $500,000. Voorhies said there are other service fees that the UA collects for the week. Based on last year, he expects those services to total approximately $325,000 as follows:
• Police Department – $102,704;
• Facilities Management – $721;
• Parking and Transit – $106,571; and
• Athletic Department – $115,873.
He said the amount paid to the UA Athletic Department is strictly reimbursement of expenses because there is no rental fee charged.
“When you talk about benefit to the university it’s really not the dollars. It’s the exposure we get as people from all over the country and all over the world – shareholders and associates who spend time on campus and in Northwest Arkansas. They go away with a fresh perspective on the university, the region and the state,” Voorhies said.
Kathy Deck, director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said the biggest draw in terms of traffic is for the Friday meeting at Bud Walton Arena. However, she said it is unknown know how many people traveling here and plan for an overnight stay. She said the 5,000 or so Wal-Mart workers will be here for the full week, but because they stay at the university, hotels don’t see the benefit.
Between 50 and 100 members of the media also attend for part of the week. Some coming from as far away as Japan and the United Kingdom. The Embassy Suites in Rogers hosts a few meetings during the week and also benefits from the out-of-town media who stay there.
“We have not formally studied the economic impact from this week, but we know it always occurs in June and we think it is on par with a Razorback football game in terms of revenue generated,” Deck said.
On a greater scale, she said the week puts Northwest Arkansas in a positive light, the benefits are more reputational than economical.
“It opens this region up to the world,” Deck said. “For those in the global workforce this may be their first trip to the United States.”
Shareholders never know who will show up to join the celebration during Friday’s meeting. In recent year’s they have been treated to musical performances from the likes of John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, Celine Dion, Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Josh Groben, Taylor Swift and the Zac Brown Band.
All eyes will be peeled at the local Walmart stores Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, trying to spot the host for this year’s event. Past hosts include: Hugh Jackman, Ben Stiller, Jamie Lee Fox and Justin Timberlake. The host usually makes a video at a local Wal-Mart store which is shown during Friday’s meeting. All bets are on the new Walmart to Go convenience store in Bentonville as the site for this year’s host video.
The two free concerts already announced this year will feature Jason Aldean and Cole Swindell on Tuesday, June 3. Foreigner, Styx and Don Felder will take the stage at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday, (June 4).