Wal-Mart closing distribution centers in Bentonville, Fort Smith; operations moving to new facility

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 26,910 views 

Wal-Mart is making room for its new corporate headquarters by relocating some distribution center operations in Bentonville and Fort Smith into a 1.03 million square foot warehouse space now under construction at 5800 S.W. Regional Airport Road in Bentonville.

The retailer said it’s having conversations with employees in Bentonville and Fort Smith on Thursday (Jan. 25) about the changes. The footwear distribution center in Fort Smith will close when the operations are consolidated with the fashion distribution center later this year or early 2019, depending on when the new warehouse is completed. (UPDATE: Talk Business & Politics has learned that both distribution facilities in Fort Smith are closing.)

Workers in Fort Smith will have the opportunity to relocate or transfer. The Fort Smith operation employs less than 100 workers. Jobs at the return center in Bentonville (serving Walmart and Sam’s Club) will also be eliminated when that operation is spread among five other return centers across the U.S. in the next year.

The retailer said in September it would relocate an estimated 5,000 workers in offices located in the proposed building site for the new corporate headquarters. The moves announced Thursday begin that process, which is expected to take up to three years. The print shop, also located on the proposed new headquarters site, will be moved to another facility in Bentonville, which is yet to be determined.

The changes in the logistics network come on the heels of news of the consolidation of four regional operations centers into two and the closure of the health and wellness distribution center in Derby Kansas slated for August.

Also Thursday, corporate layoffs continued at the home office in Bentonville. Sources confirmed less than 500 positions are being eliminated from the corporate payrolls this go around. A year ago, the retailer shed around 511 jobs according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) letter given to the city. No such letter was required this year.

Areas hit this time with layoffs include the jewelry division, accounting, human resources, ISD global sourcing, real estate, store planning, modular and space planning, construction and design, logistics and merchandising.

The year-end purge has become common for Wal-Mart and other retailers as they face ongoing industry challenges. Wal-Mart has said it is streamlining its operations as needed and while that does mean some jobs are lost others are created. Also this week the retailer said it’s promoting 360 employees to jobs with more responsibility.

The retailer is believed to employ about 15,000 in its back office and corporate operations in Northwest Arkansas. Additionally there are roughly 10,000 jobs in the Northwest Arkansas supplier community linked to Wal-Mart’s retail business.

While Wal-Mart’s corporate headcount may be shrinking, the retailer’s commitment to construct a new corporate headquarters in Bentonville was a vote of confidence in the region and the suppliers who have also invested in their own teams and real estate ventures in the retailer’s backyard.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon told employees in September the new home office is a “stake in the ground to say this is a company that’s going to be here in 50 years time or more.”