Regional innovation group gets $50,000 boost from Delta Regional Authority

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 301 views 

State and federal officials braved a downpour Wednesday to learn about a program that will help budding entrepreneurs grow their business in the economy. About 12 people were at the Arkansas State University Delta Center for Economic Development to hear about a $50,000 donation for the East Arkansas Regional Innovation System.

The DRA on Wednesday (March 30) added the money to a $500,000 grant the Delta Center had already received in February from the federal Economic Development Administration. The project has also received $886,967 in matching funds while Ritter Communications gave $266,000 for services and equipment, officials said in February. Shawnie Carrier, director of the Delta Center, said ASU will serve as the catalyst for the program. The program is modeled after the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in Little Rock.

Officials said in February the program will create a clearinghouse for resources available for people wanting to start a business. Carrier said deputy director Heather Clark, who helped develop the grant proposal, helped to make the project a reality.

“Without Heather, this would not have happened,” Carrier said.

ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson said it is often difficult for young entrepreneurs to get their ideas in the marketplace.

“The key is partnerships,” Hudson said, citing ASU’s partnership with the New York Institute of Technology to open an osteopathy school at the Jonesboro campus and a college campus in Mexico as examples.

Hudson said ASU has put together more than  $300 million in construction projects systemwide in the past several years, mostly due to partnerships. Delta Regional Authority federal co-chairman Chris Masingill thanked Hudson for his work, saying ASU has provided a “huge footprint” in the Delta region. Masingill, who also serves on the White House Rural Council, said bureaucracy can be a horrible thing to navigate but noted that working with partners, “wonderful things can happen.” Masingill said the program will help entrepreneurs get the tools and capacities to grow.

“We all know that government does not create jobs. The private sector does,” Masingill said. “However, government can create the tools for the company to grow.”

Masingill also thanked groups like the East Arkansas Planning and Development District and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub for providing the ecosystem to programs to grow.

Alan Morse, president of Ritter Communications, said the company has worked to build strong roots in rural Arkansas.

“To be able to participate in a program like this is something we could not pass up,” Morse said, noting the telephone part of the company began 1906.

Carrier and Clark said the program has begun to move forward in recent weeks. The program will have sites at ASU, the ASU-Newport campus in Jonesboro and will use a 3,000 to 4,000-square-foot area of a building on Church Street in Jonesboro as a laboratory. Clark said the building in downtown Jonesboro will help to draw interest as well as people who may have an idea.

“We have no limit on the number,” Clark said, noting the group is ready. “We invite them.”