Andrew Heath came to Northwest Arkansas on business and found love. Eight years later, he lives here with his wife and two stepchildren, and has recently started his new job as executive director of Downtown Bentonville Inc. (DBI).
DBI is a downtown association whose mission is “to strengthen and enhance the downtown Bentonville experience for those who live, work, play and visit downtown.”
Heath, 39, first visited the area in 2010 while working as the executive director for the family office of Jonas and Anne Beiler, philanthropists and founders of Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels. Anne Beiler spoke at Cross Church’s “The Summit” business luncheon, where Heath’s future wife, Rebecca, was his point of contact for arrangements. The two became friends as a result.
Shortly after, Heath took a position as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Coalition, a group of conservation, recreation and preservation organizations. The group advocates for funding to conserve, protect and restore land, water and wildlife throughout the state.
The Heaths eventually married, and for five years Andrew commuted between his job in Pennsylvania and his new family in Northwest Arkansas. Recently he felt it was time for a change.
“It was time for me to get rooted in this area,” Heath said. “Plus, I cannot think of a better place to move than NWA. I love the hometown feeling of Bentonville. You arrive, and it’s what you would imagine a hometown looking and feeling like. There’s a very strong sense of community.”
That sense of community is due in large part to the work of DBI and the downtown Bentonville experience. Heath wants to build on that.
“What I look to do is to elevate our events, to bring them to another level, to elevate the opportunity to bring the community together,” he said. “I want to make sure that we address all the needs of the community when it comes to the events that we host and the different projects that we work on.”
Heath’s past work experiences of building relationships with different stakeholders, problem solving, identifying areas of concern and working collaboratively with others will benefit him in his job at DBI. Aaron Lawson, president of the DBI executive committee, said Heath’s background with both for-profits and nonprofits gives him a broad experience.
“He has a heart for this downtown community and the small businesses down here. And I think he’s going to be a driving force to encourage that community engagement,” Lawson said.
Building relationships is high on Heath’s agenda. First, he said he will get to know his staff of six to make sure each is in the right position to maximize their talents. Then, he will work to understand the board’s vision for DBI. In addition, he will cultivate relationships with the business community and community leaders to understand their concerns and how DBI might better serve them.
“Then I’ll be looking to grow that membership base,” he said.
Heath sees possible change on the horizon for DBI as he leads it to solidify its role in downtown Bentonville and address such issues as to whether it will remain solely an events-driven organization; how it is different from organizations like the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce and Visit Bentonville; how to handle crowd control for large events; and how DBI’s events impact the downtown business community.
“We need to see how our DBI events are impacting the community and make sure they’re still impacting the community in a positive way,” Heath said. “I’d never want to see business hindered because of the activities that we’re doing.”
In five to 10 years, Heath envisions DBI as the premier organization addressing needs in downtown Bentonville. He plans to do that by getting involved in local government and possibly addressing business concerns with regulatory changes in parking and flood control.
Heath envisions a strategic plan that will address DBI’s role in attracting people to downtown Bentonville, both now and when Walmart moves its headquarters in the city in the coming years.
“What can we do to attract people? Not just people as visitors, but people to live in the downtown area,” he said. “What can we do to promote that experience to make it more appealing for people to invest in living and raising a family here?”
DBI is not run by the city of Bentonville, but is an independent, nonprofit organization that “builds community downtown by creating engaging experiences for everyone,” according to its website. Among the events the group sponsors are First Friday, the Bentonville Farmer’s Market, Celtic Crawl, Pignic, the Art Market, Notes At Night, Membership Mixer, Winter Wonderland Lighting of the Square and the Christmas Parade.
Funded by donations, sponsorships and grants, DBI is under the direction of a nine-member board of directors and a four-member executive committee representing businesses and other community organizations. Ex-officio members include Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin, Leslee Wright of the Bentonville School District, Kalene Griffith of Visit Bentonville, and Benton County Judge Barry Moehring.
The organization was founded in 2002 as “Mainstreet Bentonville” with a mission to “preserve the heritage of the downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, area by promoting its history, culture, building environments and general viability.” In 2007, the organization became a nonprofit and the name was changed to “Downtown Bentonville Inc.” Daniel Hintz was hired to lead the organization.
Heath is the third executive director DBI has had since Hintz stepped down five years ago. David Deggs held the position from October 2013 to May 2014 and left to take a position with the Fayetteville Public Schools. Monica Kumar was executive director from May 2014 to June 2017 and is now co-founder for Kinship in Bentonville, according to her LinkedIn page.