The University of Arkansas this month rededicated efforts to stimulate the state’s economic growth by gathering six outreach units under the umbrella of the new Office of Economic Development.
“We’re embracing our role as a convener to advance economic development in Arkansas,” said Stacy Leeds, interim vice chancellor for economic development.
The outreach units are the World Trade Center Arkansas, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Sustainability Consortium, Office of Industry Engagement, Corporate and Foundation Relations, and the Arkansas Research and Technology Park.
“Many of our faculty and staff work with external partners in business and industry, social organizations and civic groups to solve real world problems and advance technology,” Leeds said. “With traditional federal grant resources in decline, university partnerships with industry for research and development will be more critical than ever.”
The new structure will provide more opportunities for these units to collaborate and share their research, said Dan Hendrix, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Arkansas, which helps businesses in the state engage in international trade. The World Trade Center Arkansas hasn’t had much overlap with other units in the past, so the restructuring will encourage those in each unit to cooperate, innovate and learn about each other, Hendrix said.
For instance, when a startup emerging from the Research and Technology Park is ready to expand internationally, cooperation with the World Trade Center Arkansas could be faster, stronger and more systematic, he said.
“We’ll have more frequent dialogue and more understanding of what each unit is doing and how we can assist each other,” Hendrix said.
Leeds, who will leave her post as law school dean on July 1, said the new office would focus on both the economy and quality of life through talent development, community service and innovative research and technologies.
First up is a May 14 campus roundtable discussion, with a presentation from Ross DeVol. Formerly the chief researcher of the Milken Institute, DeVol is spending a year with the Walton Family Foundation assessing opportunities for regional innovation ecosystems that foster job creation, wage gains and economic growth in America’s heartland. Richard Brown, dean of engineering at the University of Utah, will speak about his university’s efforts to drive innovation for Utah.
Leeds said staff has begun traveling to cities across Arkansas, visiting business and community leaders to explore how the UA can serve their needs. Public-private partnerships are being sought, as are new resources to support the missions. Engagements between students and industry projects and entrepreneurism should result, which may create opportunities for internships and career pathways.
“I don’t perceive that the general public will see any immediate difference in our operations, but there’s a big push for the UA to actually become more of a servant to the state in a commercial capacity,” Hendrix said. “There are tremendous economic dynamics going on in our state.”
Health, education and the arts will also be areas of focus for improving economic well-being in the state. The new office will also oversee intellectual property that comes out of the university through Technology Ventures.