UAFS plans to open business support hub in downtown Fort Smith by Nov. 1

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 791 views 

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith plans to have its hub of economic development up and running at The Bakery District in downtown Fort Smith by Nov. 1. The hub will include the new regional Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC).

UAFS announced in February it received more than $78,000 in funding to launch the newest regional office of the ASBTDC. The center will be located at UAFS at The Bakery District, which also will become the new home for UAFS’ Center for Business and Professional Development and the Family Enterprise Center, both of which are now housed in the Flanders Building.

The Bakery District is a developing hub for community events at 70 S. Seventh Street, in what was the 1920s-era Shipley Baking Co.

Funding for regional offices of the ASBTDC is provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration and administered by the lead center located at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dr. Latisha Settlage, interim dean of the College of Business, led efforts at UAFS to secure funding for the Fort Smith office and said the ASBTDC office will be an exceptional resource to the greater Fort Smith region.

The ASBTDC, the Center for Business and Professional Development and the Family Enterprise Center combine to allow the university to meet the educational needs of the city’s workforce and help entrepreneurs realize their dreams of opening a new business, said Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor.

The Family Enterprise Center “serves as a regional catalyst for the bedrock of our community, the family in business,” and the Center for Business and Professional Development provides customized training/consulting for area business and industry and professional development opportunities, the UAFS website states.

“When we talk about workforce development, we are talking about typical professional development or existing organizations. We do one-on-one consulting. We are really working moving into the executive educational area, where we can not only provide training for blue collar employees, we can also train white collar divisions in executive-level skills,” said Kendall Ross, director of Center for Business & Professional Development. “Our goal when we move into (The Baker District) is to move into that area, to be all encompassing.”

The Family Enterprise Center is one of only a few in the country dedicated to working with family business, where at least two related people are in management of the business, to meet their needs, Settlage said. She said once in the new space, the center will expand its programming and look for ways to expand funding opportunities for family businesses.

The ASBTDC’s mission is to help small businesses and entrepreneurs launch and develop businesses that in turn strengthen and sustain the economy and communities of Arkansas, a UAFS news release said.

“In collaboration with fellow ASBTDC offices around the state, the Fort Smith regional office will work with all types of for-profit business, from home-based to high-tech. Serving Crawford, Sebastian and Scott counties, clients can receive one-on-one confidential consulting and cutting-edge market research at no charge,” a news release on the program said.

Businesses and entrepreneurs also can expand their expertise by participating in affordable educational events.

SBTDC offices have to be associated with a university. Riley signed a memo of understanding (MOU) with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock early in December for the one located at UAFS at The Bakery District, she said in an interview with Talk Business & Politics.

One of the success stories on the ASBTDC website is Bookish: Fort Smith’s Independent Bookstore, which has a store in The Bakery District next to the UAFS space, which is just one reason why having a hub of helpful programs for regional business in that space is a good move.

Ross said the space at The Bakery District is in the demolition stage and space should be operational by October and completely ready or the target open date of Nov. 1.

“UAFS is committed to economic development. … We’ve tried to pull together the right pieces to contribute to economic development in Fort Smith. We are now going to be able to, at the Bakery District, serve every business regardless what state of development they are in,” Settlage said.

If someone has an idea for a business but does not know where or how to start working towards their dream of opening that business, UAFS has a tool, she said. If there is already a small business that needs additional training or a loan to expand, there will now be a tool associated with UAFS. Once a business has its feet off the ground and begins to face issues on how to transition to the next step, there is a tool for that too, she said. Businesses looking to really grow and that need workforce training can find solutions through UAFS as well, she added.

“And where is it all located? In one place called The Bakery District,” Settlage said.