Walton Family helps NWACC expand culinary program with $15 million grant

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 365 views 

The NorthWest Arkansas Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program (CAHM) got a shot in the arm from the Walton Family Foundation that will infuse more than $15 million toward program expansion.

NWACC officials said the funds will be used for new facilities, improve existing programs, professional development, and bring on new leadership and faculty to manage the growth.

“With a vision of being a nationally recognized two-year college, NWACC is distinctly positioned to serve and strengthen the community through this endeavor,” said Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson, NWACC’s president, said in a statement. “This infusion of resources into culinary education will not only enhance the learning experience through expanded hands-on curriculum that fosters practical learning, it also will anchor this as a world-class program in the immediate future and secure an outlet for accommodating future industry demands.”

The Walton Family Foundation grants will support the region’s culinary vision total spending of $15.072 million.

A two-year grant of $8,352,885 is going toward the development of the new location in the former Tyson Foods plant in Bentonville’s Market District. NWACC will lease space in the center when it’s completed. The amount of that lease has not yet been determined.

A three-year grant of $2,114,728 to the NorthWest Arkansas Community College Foundation will allow for the necessary growth of the college’s culinary operations and curriculum development.

A one-year grant of up to $4,604,634 also awarded to the NWACC Foundation will assist in the purchasing and installation of furniture, fixtures and equipment to support the growth of program offerings.

After a national search, NWACC hired Dr. Glenn Mack as the college’s first executive director of culinary arts, He will oversee the program and its expansion, according to Steven Hinds, NWACC director of marketing. Hinds said the new entire program will be rebranded in the coming weeks.

Mack, a native Arkansan, joined the college on June 1. He served as market president for Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and most recently as academic dean with a chef academy in Singapore. He also serves as president-elect of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

The enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit, blossoming food scene and the prospects for community engagement in the region are key factors that will help grow the culinary program, Mack said.

NWACC said it plans to add new areas of focus, such as artisanal food and beverage management to the culinary program, building on the state’s existing agricultural bounty and burgeoning food-related businesses. Some of the new courses may include butchery, seasonal cooking, food entrepreneurship, charcuterie, and the art of fermentation and distillation. The program also hopes to use corresponding community education courses that help to connect industry professionals, entrepreneurs and food enthusiasts through the existing Tyson Culinary Learning Center on the NWACC campus in Bentonville.

“The expansion of our culinary program specifically addresses our area’s workforce needs over the coming years,” Mack said. “The food assessment study found that food and hospitality jobs in Northwest Arkansas now represent more than 28,800 jobs. Those occupations are expected to increase 10% over the next decade. Our goal is to build a program that increases our region’s restaurant startups and stimulates culinary entrepreneurs, which will ultimately create more demand for graduates of the program.”

Matthew McClure, executive chef at The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville, said the expanded program will help provide the growing industry with an improved workforce.

“I’m excited about NWACC’s commitment to culinary education,” said Matthew McClure, executive chef of The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville. “The expanded curriculum will enhance tangible skills that will aid our fast-growing culinary scene in Northwest Arkansas.”

NWACC hopes to move its expanded culinary program pending board approval from the Center for Nonprofits at St. Mary’s in Rogers into the market district in downtown Bentonville. 

The new location will be in a former industrial plant Tyson Foods operated on Eighth Street in Bentonville. This facility is being adapted for reuse by the Community Development Corporation of Bentonville/Bella Vista. Its location in the market district is expected to be an anchor for other other food-related activities and businesses, said Troy Galloway, community and economic director for the city of Bentonville.

Hinds said the new culinary center should occupy 27,500 square feet in the new facility which could be open to students in the fall of 2016. Renovation plans for the rest of the industrial reuse space are not yet complete, according to city officials.

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