Technology is transforming Northwest Arkansas’ three largest companies and each are embracing the changes. Officials with J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart took part in a panel discussion moderated by Wall Street Journal reporter Sarah Nassauer to close the Northwest Arkansas Tech Summit on Tuesday (Oct. 23).
This is fifth year the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce has held the event.
Jeremy King, chief technology officer at Walmart, said the Bentonville-based retail giant continues to reboot the customer experience by using data in a more personal way. He said the retailer is also launching grocery delivery in Northwest Arkansas. He told Talk Business & Politics the service went live Tuesday and the company will make a formal announcement in the near future. Walmart is working to reach 40% of the U.S. population for grocery delivery by the end of the year. To do that, the company is using more than 800 stores as fulfillment centers in the areas where delivery is offered.
Grocery pickup was first launched in Bentonville four years ago, and delivery has started in select markets. It has taken time for the retailer to bring grocery delivery to its home region, but King said it’s finally here. The cost of the service is a flat fee of $9.95 for a minimum order of $30. Walmart has said it chose to charge a flat fee and give customers the same low prices found in its stores. Walmart uses various third-party final mile delivery services and is testing is own service dubbed Spark in a few stores in Florida.
King said Walmart has five main technology hubs around the globe, but the largest by far is Bentonville, where the company employs roughly 4,000 tech workers. He said 1,700 have been added this year to innovate around technologies that make the shopping experience better or streamline supply chain. Walmart eCommerce has tech offices in Hoboken, N.J., Washington, D.C., San Bruno, Calif., and Banglaore, India. There are other small tech shops in Texas in Austin and Dallas that innovate for stores.
King said Walmart started an initiative to recruit more women technologists who had been absent from the workforce. The program provides mentorship and reintroduction in the fast-moving world of tech. He said there are 35 women in one facility and it’s been so successful the company plans to expand the program.
Looking for tech talent is a challenge for all three companies. Dawn Drewry, vice president, Center of Expertise lead at Tyson Foods, said the Springdale-based meat giant is in the process of opening its first tech shop abroad. She told Talk Business & Politics the company plans to open a tech office in Banglaore, India, where it will employ about 50 tech workers in addition to those in Springdale, and assist in the company’s migration to the cloud. She said the move helps the transition to the cloud for data storage of all the company’s working systems.
“We expect to finish this transformation by 2020,” Drewry said. “We are only about 10% of the way done but we think it will make a big difference for us when it’s complete.”
Gary Dowdy, a technology executive with J.B. Hunt, said the Lowell-based company has already filled its newest corporate tower still under construction at its corporate campus. He said the 1,000 tech-related jobs have been filled and when the building opens next year, it’s already staffed. Until then, the workers are housed in four different facilities.
When asked how and where the company sources its talent, Dowdy said the company has successfully garnered some locally, others from Nashville, Tenn., some in Texas and other areas where they actively recruit from colleges and technology fairs. He said there is a lot of interest around drones and autonomous vehicles, but the company is also using machine learning in its freight brokerage division to match trucks with customers needing to ship goods.
“J.B. Hunt has been around for 50 years and I believe we are going to see more change in the next 10 than in all the years before,” Dowdy said.