Bentonville is home to one of the world’s largest companies but this week the city and chamber of commerce saluted its small businesses as part of National Small Business Week. The Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce held an award luncheon for small businesses on Wednesday (May 4).
Herb Lawrence, lender relations specialist of the Small Business Administration in Little Rock, said small businesses are a large part what keeps local and state economies moving. He said in the past five years (fiscal) Benton and Washington counties accounted for 431 of the SBA loans in the state, totaling $234.5 million. When looking at the surrounding six-county area he said 440 SBA loans totaled $680 million, or 32% of the state aggregate.
“It’s easy to see that small businesses are growing in this region, Lawrence said.
One of the small businesses honored at the event was Bentonville Brewing Company. Katie and Beau Boykin co-owners of Bentonville Brewing Company, moved from Fort Collins, Colo., to Bentonville in 2014 to start the craft brewing company.
“We had friends here in Bentonville and Beau is from Mississippi and spent some time here when he was in college. We often thought it would be cool to quit our day jobs and brew beer all day and then it happened,” Boykin told Talk Business & Politics. “Our friend, Lee Robinson, actually founded the company and got this location. We moved here in 2014 and got the ball rolling with the permits and equipment set up and we started selling to the public in June 2015.”
Since then, Bentonville Brewing Company craft beer is sold in 65 restaurants and tap rooms from Eureka Springs to Siloam Springs and throughout the two-county area. Boykin said the company has grown to 8 employees – three full time and the rest are part-time, mainly tap room attendants.
The company runs one tap room from its home base in downtown Bentonville on S.E. 5th Street, near the Blu Fresh Fish Marketplace and a few short blocks to the square. The Razorback Greenway runs behind the taproom and brewing site. Boykin said Beau has a background in biology and once worked in cotton genetics with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is working to finish her business degree by October.
She said the company chose to locate their craft brewery in Bentonville because they felt the time was ripe given alcohol sales have only been allowed for a few years. She said there is also a professional population in Bentonville that is supportive of startup businesses given they have more disposable income.
“Where else can you hang out at a craft beer tap room and sit next to the head of creative for Walmart and say the owner of the Pressroom. It’s a great place to meet other professionals in a casual setting,” Boykin added. “We were a little surprised to be selected as the emerging company of the year especially given that so many other companies were also nominated.”
Boykin said the company is planning to expand its production by adding more fermenters. She said they are having fun with unusual recipes that incorporate ingredients such as peach, ginger, coffee beans and sour cherries. The company also has four distinct brews in production year-round ranging from dark, wheat, amber and pale ale blends.
“Fort Collins has a very mature craft brew culture where the tap rooms are like gathering places for families. Here the culture is very young because it’s still so new. That is exciting to be here and grow with the industry. I can definitely see the craft beer culture in Northwest Arkansas eventually morphing into a mature culture like Fort Collins.”
She said the company got its start with a few angel investors and they have since taken out a small loan to help fund operational expansion and are seeing revenue grow at a healthy clip. Boykin expects the company will take its brews to central Arkansas.
Other businesses highlighted at the chamber event were:
• Exporter of the Year: Launch Marketing, Jeff Engleman;
• Small Business Person of the Year: Keith Brown at Brown’s Collision Center; and
• Woman Owned Business of Year: Rebecca Elkins, Elkins Design.
FIGHTING GENDER BIAS
Geena Davis, co-founder of the Bentonville Film Festival, was the keynote speaker for the luncheon. She has long championed the need for diversity in filmmaking and has raised awareness on gender bias of the past decade. Davis said she always wanted to be an actor, but it wasn’t until she began viewing children’s programming with her own kids that she noticed there were few roles for women in any type of fictional production from television to movies.
Davis said Hollywood has to do better, and when she began talking about the issue with studios and production companies the response was that no one could believe what the hard numbers show. That in family rated films for every 1 female role there are nearly 3 male roles. She said very few films today achieve gender parity, with only 11% having balanced casts of women and men.
At the core Davis thinks this bias is unconscious but says it’s educating children that it’s normal and acceptable when it continues as it has for the past 70 years in film.
“The more television girls watch the fewer options they think they have,” Davis said. “A popular career aspiration from young girls today is be like Kim Kardashian, or a reality television celebrity. Interesting enough the more television boys watch the more sexualized they can become. Imagine how different would our be if our kids could grow up without this bias,” Davis said.
Coincidentally, the event of the day dealt with small businesses, and while women make up nearly 51% of the population they lag behind in many careers including owning small businesses. The SBA Office of Advocacy in Little Rock reports that women comprise 6.3% of the self-employed demographic. They could not say how many of the state’s 240,123 small businesses were owned by women, but they did know how many were owned by ethnicity.