Crystal Bridges is often framed as the catalyst for a wave of inevitable economic development, but it’s not clear to what extent that’s really true. All this development has not resulted organically so much as it has just also been put there by the Waltons -- a single family manufacturing, simultaneously, both the demand and the supply. “They’re creating a kind of Millennial wonderworld, is what they’re doing,” said one Bentonville resident. “I can’t quite get my mind around — it’s this instaculture process. It’s just so top-down.”
The Waltons, it should be noted, are not the only dynasty in Northwest Arkansas. The region has a surprising number of wealthy philanthropic families who hit it big and never left, and whose fingerprints are all over Benton County today. There are the Tysons (processed foods) and the Georges (poultry) in Springdale; the Hunts (trucking) in Rogers; the Walkers (Walmart) in Fayetteville. But the Waltons are the wealthiest family in America, with a net worth that exceeds $175 billion. That’s more than the Tysons, Georges, Hunts, Walkers, Kochs, Trumps, Sacklers, and Murdochs combined, with enough leftover to pay all 1.5 million Walmart US employees their average wage of $14.26/hour for a year, give or take. It’s the kind of money that allows you to build a museum in the Ozarks that attracts art lovers from all over the world, or to market as a premiere mountain biking destination a region that can at best be described as "hilly."
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“There’s a lot of people who do partake [in the new downtown attractions], but I don’t know how many are… local,” said Jennifer, a 34-year-old Bentonville resident whose name has been changed at her request. “I think they’re catering to the type of employee they’re hoping to bring here. If they want to compete with the Amazon model or the Google model of having that young hip talent, then they’ve got to boost Arkansas’ appearance on paper, because everyone’s like, ‘What? You wear shoes there?’”