Jun 9, 2022 - Business

NWA is ready for takeoff

Planes are in plain view at Thaden Field in Bentonville. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Northwest Arkansas has the potential to be a leader in aviation, but creating a culture to support the industry is a slow process, Steuart Walton told Axios.

Driving the news: UP.Partners, Steuart and Tom Walton, and Ross Perot Jr. hosted UP.Summit in Bentonville this week, an event that draws established and startup companies to discuss the future of transportation.

  • Arkansas also wants to be a leader in "next-generation transportation" and has backing from Walmart, J.B. Hunt, FedEx and the University of Arkansas.

What they're saying: "As this region grows, for us to really truly become the best version of ourselves, we’re going to need new opportunities, new industries, new kinds of work, and to me, this seems like a very natural expansion of an area that we could potentially be a leader in," Steuart Walton said of aviation.

  • He noted that Arkansas' central location and clear airspace position the state well for flying and using new technologies.

Background: Walton, the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, co-owns Runway Group, a holding company with projects in real estate, hospitality and recreation, including Thaden Field, a municipal airport in Bentonville. He's also a pilot and founder of Game Composites, a company housed at Thaden that manufactures aircraft.

The big picture: Establishing a prevalent culture means aviation needs to be accessible, which is why Thaden Field is inviting to anyone in the community, with a playground, a restaurant and aircraft highly visible. Thaden is home to a flight school and flying club. More access and general proximity to aircraft can generate interest in jobs, recreation or innovation.

  • "We're trying to provide an environment where folks that might be inclined to go in that direction have the opportunity to do so," Walton said.

What's next: Game Composites, which employs about 70 people, has its second aircraft design underway and will more than double its facility space by the end of this year. Walton's goal is for Game Composites to be a "respected and sizeable aerospace company."


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