Delta Regional Authority to help fund innovation hub in Ozark foothills

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 238 views 

Efforts to build the Spring River Innovation Hub (SRIH) got a boost this week when the Delta Regional Authority gave $20,000 towards the project. SRIH Director of Placemaking Graycen Colbert Bigger told Talk Business & Politics building space inside the Cherokee Village Town Center in Cherokee Village has been donated, rent free, for one year.

Officials hope to have the co-working space open early next year, she said. Doniphan Vitality, a non-profit group, and the Cherokee Village Town Center will partner on the project.

“We want people to know what types of business and marketing resources are available to them,” she said.

The space will have high-speed internet access, offer business and marketing consultations for perspective entrepreneurs, and offer other services related to starting and managing a business, she said. It will be manned by interns and it will have membership fees, Bigger said. Workshops will be offered. Those fees could range from $30 to $50 per month, and there could be special discounts for students, seniors, and others. Day and weekend passes will be available, too.

FNBC Bank donated $12,000 towards the construction refit of the space, and it’s expected to cost around $57,000. Other public-private partnership members include the Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce, Ozarka College, the Highland school district and others.

The idea is to build an innovation hub or hubs in towns like Cherokee Village and Pocahontas similar to the Arkansas Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. The hubs would have work spaces for craftsmen such as wood working, painting, advanced manufacturing, and others. The hubs could also provide shared office space and equipment, professional training, and development.

Another arm of the economic development concept is the marketing and distribution of products produced by artisans in the Ozark Mountain region. Bigger wants to help artisans push their wares through brick and mortar retail stores and develop regional distribution routes. Online sales will also be emphasized, she said.

Sharp County has a median household income of $30,691, nearly 45% below the national median household level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county has an estimated 17,264 residents, and 23.6% of them live below the poverty level. Randolph County has a slightly higher median household income level at $34,044. The county has a population of about 17,469, and 17.6% of its residents live at or below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The area’s economic poverty will be one of the primary obstacles to forming a hub or hubs, Bigger said. The benefits could have a dramatic impact on the region’s economy, however.

Creative placemaking allows communities to renovate old, unused buildings; it helps to create construction, local business and other jobs; it also brings business professionals and artisans into a similar space which can be mutually lucrative, Bigger said. It also raises cultural awareness and improves a community’s livability, a significant factor for industries seeking to locate elsewhere, she said.

The next step will be to build a makers space. That project could could be anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. To get funding for it, the co-worker space has to perform well, and she expects it to.

“We’re going to spend the next several months marketing and promoting ourselves,” she said.

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