Nov 9, 2023 - News

Heartland Summit brings Boris Johnson, Matthew McConaughey to Bentonville

Steuart Walton (left) interviews Boris Johnson, former U.K. prime minister. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

In perhaps the most improbable pairing imaginable, Boris Johnson and Matthew McConaughey headlined an event opener in Bentonville last night.

  • Yes, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom and the Oscar award-winning actor.

What's happening: The 2023 Heartland Summit, hosted by think tank Heartland Forward, kicked off Wednesday evening at the Record.

  • The organization is focused on improving the economic performance of a 20-state region it calls the "heartland."

The big picture: The invitation-only gathering annually convenes about 350 policymakers, regional civic leaders, entrepreneurs and investors to talk about economic development and network.

Author Kelly Corrigan interviews Matthew McConaughey. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Catch up quick: The conversations were fast and varied, but a few key items worthy of your time:

  • Steuart Walton, co-founder of the Runway Group investment company, said his vision is for Bentonville to lead the nation in trips made by bicycle within 10 years.
  • His brother, Tom Walton, hopes NWA diversifies its economy and becomes an "importer of talent."
  • Johnson, also a former mayor of London who oversaw the city's effort to decrease cyclist deaths by car, said that adding cycling lanes alone isn't enough for safety and adaptation for transportation. You have to "lean into it," he said.
  • A radical move by Johnson was to not require helmets for a rideshare program, which helped raise adoption, he said, and also made motorists more aware of the cycling community. The Guardian reported mixed results.
  • McConaughey, who is from Uvalde, Texas, shared about his experiences getting involved with politics in the wake of the school shooting there last year.
  • His learnings led to the Greenlights Grants Initiative, which raises awareness of the availability of federal money to support school safety and tools to make applications easier.
  • What's next: The summit continues around Bentonville on Thursday with topical meetings — from ag innovation to advanced mobility — planned for various venues.

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