Tyson to open technology center in downtown Springdale, create a technology hub

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 3,869 views 

In November, Tyson Foods opened an office housing IT employees in downtown Springdale, and in 2019, it looks to open adjacent office to train workers in automation and robotics technology.

Springdale-based meat giant Tyson Foods will continue to invest into downtown Springdale after CEO Tom Hayes announced plans to build a manufacturing and automation technology center, southwest of the company’s original headquarters, which houses about 300 information technology workers on Emma Avenue.

Hayes made the announcement in front of about 250 business leaders and entrepreneurs from across Northwest Arkansas and the state attending Invest Springdale, a half-day summit focused on the development of downtown Springdale.

“Downtown Springdale will be a focus for technology,” Hayes said. “It will just continue. We see that as a place for us to really center everything technology downtown. Also, I’ll put the plug in: restaurants, bars, we need more because that’s what people want. They want to walk around and enjoy lunch. Right now, there’s like two or three places they can go to, and they need a lot more.”

Hayes, who lives in Springdale, was one of three panelists in the early investors panel, which included Mike Malone, Northwest Arkansas coordinator for the Runway Group, and Adam Rutledge, president of First Security Bank in Northwest Arkansas. Other aspects of the summit, which was hosted by Springdale Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Springdale Alliance, included breakout sessions on topics such as downtown living, construction planning and successful startups and why they chose to invest into downtown.

After the panel discussion, Derek Burleson, public relations manager for Tyson, said the manufacturing and automation technology center would be for employee training and development in automation and robotics technology, and the target date for its opening in 2019. When asked about the investment into the center, its size and the number of people who’d work there, Burleson said more details on the center will be released in the coming months. It would be built on Meadow Street, between the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad tracks and the parking lot, south of Tyson Emma, 319 E. Emma Ave.

“The reason why we love coming back to downtown Springdale is because there’s a lot we want to do to recognize our heritage but then build cool places to work,” Hayes said. “Things that are going to drive us forward as a company, and it couldn’t have been more exciting to lead the development of Tyson moving to downtown Springdale, with the old headquarters.”

As the company builds offices downtown, he said, it plans to add parking.

Malone, the former head of the Northwest Arkansas Council who now works for an entity controlled by Tom and Steuart Walton, said Northwest Arkansas is a region like others that are in a talent race.

“Young professionals can live anywhere, and they have full access to information about everywhere. They can do their jobs from locations around the world these days, so we’ve really got to build regions they want to be in. And Tom and Steuart Walton have both said and described downtowns as the beating hearts of our cities. So that’s absolutely why they are focused on downtown development in each of the downtowns in Northwest Arkansas.”

Malone also highlighted the importance of the city having a strategic plan for downtown, and he said the Walton Family Foundation likes to invest in areas with clear and coherent strategies with measurable objectives. The foundation has invested $10 million in downtown Springdale over the past five years, Malone said.

Hayes commended the city on its investment into infrastructure, such as the improvements to Emma Avenue, and the work has encouraged Tyson to do more.

“We do own a property which is the Fuller Fixture building, so there will be some plans for that in the future, again with the theme to consolidate some of the team members we have in other areas to downtown, technology primarily,” he said. “We do also own a property, which is the flea market area. Not the greatest looking space, so we know we have a responsibility to clean that up, and we’ll do that.”

In the early 2000s, First Security Bank purchased First National Bank of Springdale, and the bank’s downtown location on Emma Street is adjacent to Walter Turnbow Park along Spring Creek and the Razorback Regional Greenway, Rutledge said. He spoke about the bank’s investment into a building that was built in the 1920s, and how it’s occupied with three businesses but has room for one more, possibly for a restaurant.

“It’s just right there on the park,” Rutledge said. “We tried to keep the same building intact, but give it a little bit of a fresh look and attract new tenants. … Our core’s in downtowns across this state, and we want to put that same initiative into downtown Springdale with our entire campus.”

Rutledge hopes to see downtown become a place where one can live, work and play, and not need a vehicle. In a question-and-answer session, Rutledge said he’s been in early talks about the potential need for a hotel in downtown but not one with a rooftop bar.

Malone said last month Magnolia Gardens, which is owned by Springdale Downtown LLC, an entity controlled by the Walton family, has reopened for lodging, including an inn, tepees with air conditioning and a camping area.

“No rooftop bar yet though,” he joked. “It’s a good idea.”

Perry Webb, president and CEO of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, said the idea for the summit came about from the inability to answer questions about downtown Springdale, and about eight months ago the idea came to the chamber about bringing together all downtown stakeholders to have a conversation on downtown development.

“It ended up being people who might be interested in owning land or owning buildings or leasing buildings or investors or financing,” Webb said. “We’ve got a complete cross section of interested individuals from political leaders to business leaders to financial entities. Real estate’s heavily invested. A lot of community minded groups are here that just want to hear what’s going on. The surprise to me has been the circle has grown to central Arkansas and other regions are interested in what we’re doing.”

Initially, the plan for the summit was to take place in February but was moved to coordinate with other’s calendars, dates and facilities, said Webb, adding that the event might take place annually.

“What we’re doing today is working to show where the opportunities exist in downtown,” said Kelly Syer, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance. “We want to shine a light on some of the projects already taking place that are serving as a catalyst for new opportunities. We know that there’s some gaps in our downtown.”

The hope is people are inspired to invest into downtown, and those who do will have community support, Syer said.

“There’s a lot of momentum happing here, and a lot of questions coming in,” she said. “And we thought if we pull people together, we could really think about what is it that’s been asked with such frequency, help to answer some of those questions, and at the same time give people an opportunity to network, that may have shared interests or maybe there’s a developer looking for a business owner. And so we’re hoping there will be some synergies there.”

This year is a very pivotal year for downtown as a number of projects will be developed, and if another summit were to take place, it might not look the same as this one, Syer said.