May 12, 2022 - Business

Heartland Summit dives deep into regional economies

Walton Family Foundation executive director Caryl Stern talks with Pharell Williams. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios
Walton Family Foundation executive director Caryl Stern talks with Pharrell Williams at the Heartland Summit. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

If not for the heat, anyone at 21c Hotel in Bentonville Wednesday could've mistaken groups of people and talk of the economy for a gathering at Davos, Switzerland.

  • Rapper Pharrell Williams, billionaire entrepreneur Steve Case and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon were among countless others to stroll through the lobby.

What's happening: The 2022 Heartland Summit, hosted by Heartland Forward, kicked off Wednesday at the Record. The think tank is focused on improving the economic performance of a 20-state region.

  • The event — part Ted Talk, part entertainment, part Arkansas tourism expo — set the stage for events being held Thursday at various Bentonville venues.
  • There were brief presentations about climate change, healthcare and getting the Hispanic community to vote.

The big picture: About 350 people, by invitation only, are convened to discuss strategies to grow local and regional economies in the middle of the country.

  • Civic leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists and academics make up the audience.
A photo of Olivia, Tom, Kelly and Steuart Walton.
Olivia, Tom, Kelly and Steuart Walton. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

What they're saying: In the post-pandemic world, workers can choose to live anywhere. So, communities will need to focus on recruiting people rather than just companies, Tom Walton, grandson to Walmart's founder, told the room Wednesday night.

  • "Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not," Olivia Walton, cofounder of the summit and chair of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art told Axios. Olivia and Tom are married.

Olivia told Axios she hopes attendees will leave the event seeing how a combination of nonprofit, for-profit and advocacy organizations are the "secret sauce" for economic development.

Yes, and: Caryl Stern, executive director of the Walton Family Foundation, interviewed Williams on stage, about his children's education project called Yellow.

  • The entertainer stressed how people learn differently — some through audio, some through visual — and how important it is to meet children where they are mentally, rather than forcing an education system on them.
  • "We have to put our arms around our youth," Williams told the audience.

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