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Walmart bets big on attracting workforce with new HQ campus

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New corporate headquarters are springing up across the United States.

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) Inc, the world’s largest retailer and the country’s biggest private sector employer, on Friday revealed plans for a new corporate campus, joining rivals Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Apple in expanding their corporate campuses as President Donald Trump pressures U.S. companies to make larger investments at home.

The Bentonville, Ark. based-company is building a new headquarters in its hometown – a project it announced in September 2017 – that will spread over 300 acres and house its nearly 17,000 employees with room to accommodate more as it creates new jobs.

Bike trails that run through the heart of the campus, a massive park, fitness centers, food trucks and child care centers will be some of the amenities that will fuse with a modern aesthetic design, said Dan Bartlett, executive vice-president of corporate affairs, who is overseeing the project.

There will also be the more basic elements that go into designing a modern workplace, such as flexible open floor plans that boost collaboration and offer privacy, tall ceilings, lots of windows and light and ample parking space, he said.

“We are striving to attract and retain the best talent in order to win the future of retail and the key component of that is the work environment that we are creating,” Bartlett said.

Walmart has kept its plans for a new headquarters relatively low key, unlike some of its rivals.

For example, captivated elected officials across North America in September 2017 when it announced it would create more than 50,000 jobs in a second headquarters dubbed HQ2. Cities and states vied desperately for the economic stimulus, with some states offering billions in potential tax credits.

After an aggressive hunt, Amazon announced two winners: Long Island City in New York and Arlington, Virginia. But it had to reverse its plans abruptly in the Big Apple after a backlash over various issues, including tax breaks.

iPhone maker Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) also announced it is spending $1 billion to build a second campus in Austin, Texas, that will house up to 15,000 workers.

Corporate America has been under political pressure to ramp up investments at home as part of Trump’s “America First” policies, which have led to a bitter trade war with China.

It is also increasingly in the interest of U.S. companies to tout investments and job creation, especially because those that have moved jobs overseas or shuttered factories have drawn sharp rebukes from Trump, who has championed job creation.

Walmart’s Bartlett did not give details on the amount it is investing in the project, nor the number of new jobs it will create at its new campus. He said the project and the capital investment will be phased over multiple years and will not hurt its financials in any single quarter or year.

Walmart also did not receive any “special packages or tax breaks that were out of the ordinary” for its project, he said. It received a state investment credit that any company in Arkansas can apply for and receive, Bartlett added.

“Our goal was not to extract things from the community,” he said.

Bartlett said Walmart embarked on this project because the company’s current headquarters are at full capacity and its home office workforce is stretched over 20 buildings across Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas.

The new buildings will have solar panels atop parking decks, energy-efficient lighting, regionally sourced building materials, including mass timber construction – in addition to a connected campus design.

The retailer took design inspiration from the headquarters of companies like McDonald’s Corp, Deloitte, large consumer product makers and others on the West Coast. Officials also visited college campuses such as Stanford, the University of Texas and the University of Arkansas.

Demolition will begin this summer and the new campus will be constructed through 2024.

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