Home to the pristine waters of Beaver Lake and the picturesque landscape of the Ozark National Forest, northwest Arkansas truly embodies the Natural State’s nickname and is a natural choice for hosting out-of-the-ordinary meetings and events.
Although the region comprises four counties, three main towns have anchored the area: Fayetteville, Rogers and Bentonville. These three staples have each claimed numerous awards for the region, including Forbes Magazine’s Top 10 Best Places in America for Business and Careers and CNN Money magazine’s 10 Best Places To Live in the U.S.
It’s that last designation, coupled with the natural inspiration of the landscape, that has attracted some of the largest corporations and institutions to lay their permanent roots in that corner of the state. Northwest Arkansas is now home to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, the University of Arkansas John Brown University and Northwest Arkansas Community College; each contributes an additional spirit of prosperity and innovation to the already-stimulating region.
Despite the region’s growing success as one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas, increasing its population by 24 people per day, and mammoth tenants, northwest Arkansas has maintained a small-town charm. It’s not uncommon to bump into dignitaries at the grocery store or learn a new trade from the artist himself at one of the annual craft fairs.
“On any given day, you are sure to see volunteers out donating their time at local schools and churches, or organizing charity events and raising funds for a good cause,” said Julie Pennington, group tour marketing manager for the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau and a northwest Arkansas resident for her entire life. “It’s just the way it’s done here. The area’s scenery and strong families are what unites and defines northwest Arkansas and the people that make it so special.”
There’s a spirit of genuine warmth and Southern hospitality that seems to be in the DNA of everyone living and working in that portion of the state, and it touches all aspects of the region, from the youngest resident to the highest-paid businessman.
“What really amazes me about the region is the number of high-powered politicians and industries this part of the Ozarks has produced,” Pennington said. “Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were married right here in Fayetteville at [what is now] the Clinton House Museum while they were faculty members of the University of Arkansas Law School, and former Senator Fulbright was born and raised here.”
The three cities that make up northwest Arkansas have a venue for any meeting type, from business professionals looking for a place to host a power lunch to art communities keen on conjuring creative ideas from inspirational venues.
In Bentonville, the business culture reigned supreme for decades, as the town was known to people across the country as the “home of Wal-Mart.” Up until recently, that was the city’s biggest claim to fame, but Bentonville is now undergoing a huge transformation due to the boom in population and the new attractions and amenities offered there over the past several years. The recent additions have made the town perfect for hosting events for groups of 300 or fewer, including artist and art education meetings, conventions, continuing-education seminars for medical technicians and physicians, corporate retreats and leadership workshops.
The town is now home to meeting spaces and attractions like the Doubletree Inn and Suites, Avondale Chapel, the Wal-Mart Museum, the Museum of Native American History, the Jackson House, Compton Gardens, the Peel Mansion and Northwest Arkansas Community College. The two biggest additions to the city have been Bentonville’s newest art attractions: the 21c Museum Hotel and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
The 21c Museum Hotel is a 104-room boutique hotel mixed with a contemporary art museum, a cultural civic center and an on-site restaurant, the Hive. The hotel boasts more than 12,000 square feet of art-filled gallery and event space for eco-conscious meetings and events, and is ready to host seated, cocktail or buffet-style events for 10 to 480 people with the help of the culinary team that features celebrated chef Matthew McClure.
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the area’s newest addition. Opened in 2011, the museum was designed by Moshe Safdie and is a 200,000-square-foot space dedicated to celebrating the American spirit and local nature. The venue features a series of pavilions, spring-fed ponds, house galleries, a museum store, meeting and classroom spaces, and a large, glass-enclosed gathering hall that can host anywhere from 20 to 60 guests.
“We hear things like ‘surprising,’ “not what you think,’ ‘unique,’ ‘charming,’ ‘vibrant’ and ‘dynamic,’” Darrel Harvey, meeting sales manager for the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said of meeting groups’ typical reactions to the town. “Our location, recreational options and small-town charm make Bentonville unique, but beyond all that, you’re surrounded with tangible reminders of how powerful a single idea can be. And isn’t that the goal of every meeting? You want the people in the room to not only be impacted with what can be but also to passionately pursue what should be.”