Stars, shareholders return to Northwest Arkansas for the Wal-Mart annual meeting

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 124 views 

They’re back. As expected. About 6,000 Walmart workers from around the globe arrived in Northwest Arkansas this past weekend, and hail from 28 countries where Wal-Mart operates retail and wholesale stores.

The Wal-Mart employees peppered the Bentonville square on Monday and Tuesday (May 30 -31) touring the Walmart Museum and the Neighborhood Market located off the square.

Roughly 14,000 shareholders are expected to attend this year’s event on Friday (June 3) at the University of Arkansas. Dozens of financial analysts from around the country also attend the meeting and the question and answer session with Wal-Mart executives following the shareholder meeting on Friday.

Shareholders have more to celebrate in recent weeks as the stock price has rallied back up above $70 after dropping to the low $60s in mid May. The retailer reported better-than-expected earnings on May 19 which has Wall Street feeling a little more confident in the stock amid a volatile retail sector.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the annual pilgrimage to the Wal-Mart Shareholder meeting is the University of Arkansas. In the past few years the UA has garnered roughly $1.5 million for the use of facilities by Wal-Mart during the week long activities to conclude at the retailer’s annual shareholder meeting in Bud Walton Arena.

Steve Voorhies, manager of UA media, told Talk Business & Politics that this year Wal-Mart reserved 4,980 beds for the visiting workers who eat and sleep on campus. The majority of visiting workers are from the U.S. (3,980) who are booked for 3 days and 3 nights. The remaining 1,100 beds are for International workers who are booked for 5 days and 5 nights. The total number of rooms are down slightly from the 5,051 reserved a year ago. The room rate is $28 a day.

Typically, the UA receives about $500,000 for housing and $500,000 for dining costs related to shareholder week. Dining services provide meals throughout the week to Walmart visitors as well as snacks for the performers at Friday’s meeting. University police normally earn about $130,000 for added services provided during the week. The college also makes about $78,000 in parking fees with another $5,200 earned in facilities fees.

Voorhies said there is no charge for the use of Bud Walton Arena but Wal-Mart does pay for the event set-up.

This year Wal-Mart is holding its media meetings in Bentonville at the Four Points Sheraton, instead of the Embassy Suites in Rogers. Moving the hotel lodging and meeting events to Bentonville ensures the city could see an uptick in its hospitality taxes over last year. City officials say Walmart Shareholders week is important in Bentonville as thousands will take time to come downtown to the Walmart Museum and visit many of the restaurants and retail centers around the square and downtown area.

Friday’s business meeting will be an historic event as Jim Walton, son of founders Sam and Helen Walton, will not stand for board reelection. Instead, third generation heir Steuart Walton will stand for election in his father’s place. This comes on the heels of board chairman Rob Walton stepping back from that role and his son-in-law Greg Penner taking over as board chairman following last year’s annual meeting.

Aside from the short business meeting, Friday will likely a star-studded event and it’s anyone’s guess who the host of this year’s meeting will be.

In past years guest hosts have included Reese Witherspoon, Harry Connick Jr., Hugh Jackman and Justin Timberlake. Guest entertainers have ranged from Pharrell Williams to Taylor Swift. Superstars like Mariah Carey, John Legend, Celine Dion and Rod Stewart have also appeared in recent years. Insiders have told Talk Business & Politics that the local supplier community participates in helping Wal-Mart secure talent for shareholder’s week each year.

While there is usually a certain amount of protest at the annual meeting, this year the union groups have kept a low profile going into shareholders week.

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