by Matt Writt
I did a double-take when I saw a link on Twitter to a story by Memphis' WREG about prostitution in Bentonville, AR.
I wasn't surprised about the prostitutes. I was surprised because it's 5 hours away from Memphis. And I grew up there.
If you don't know, Bentonville is the birthplace and headquarters of the world's largest retailer, Walmart. To say that Walmart dominates the landscape there is an understatement.
Bentonville, Arkansas, has changed a lot since my family and I moved there when I was 11. The population has more than doubled and the once-ubiquitous cow pastures have been replaced with chain restaurants and coffee shops.
I've always been frustrated when people I talk to are willing to write off Bentonville as just-another hick town. Really, it's pretty interesting.
It's like a suburb, but with no adjacent "urb." The place people commute to is the Walmart Home Office, a fortified campus located a mile or two from the historic square of Bentonville.
But the majority of people doing business with Walmart don't come from Arkansas. Businesses that want to sell their stuff at Walmarts around the world set up offices in Bentonville and send their people there — that's how I ended up there.
A lot of people find it to be a pleasant place and settle down like my parents did. But, since it was (and still is) a small town, the large number of bored transplants with money to spend created a thousand niches to be filled.
I usually think of it in terms of food and restaurants. Bentonville has a thriving dining scene with everything from fine dining to locally sourced vegan cuisine. What other town in Arkansas has that? I think it's interesting that Bentonville got Dunkin' Donuts about 2 years before Memphis, if memory serves. Not that DD is a measure of status, it just says something about their priorities of expansion markets.
When you import a whole bunch of people with money to spend, you create a market for the stuff they miss from their previous homes. And new businesses will crop up to meet those needs.
Since Walmart is nearly synonymous with "globalization," I wonder what Thomas Friedman (author of The World is Flat) would say about the free-market forces at work in Bentonville?
I'll have to think about that one.