Gov. Asa Hutchinson was in downtown Fort Smith Wednesday morning (April 27) for the grand opening of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Center for Economic Development. The center is located in the Bakery District, developed by Fort Smith businessman Bill Hanna.
The center will serve as a destination for workforce and personal training, planning, and advising, according to a UAFS statement. The center will house the university’s Center for Business and Professional Development and the Family Enterprise Center, both of which were housed in the Flanders Building on the UAFS campus. Also at the center is the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC)’s Fort Smith office which works with business owners in Sebastian, Crawford and Scott counties.
Gov. Hutchinson said the center is unique to Arkansas.
“These are incredible times that we’re living in,” Hutchinson said, “And it really goes to the heart of what’s happening here in the River Valley. This center is the first of its kind in Arkansas, and I’m extraordinarily proud that this innovation is here in this community.”
The governor said 64% of U.S. jobs created each year are created by small businesses, calling them the lifeblood of a community.
“Let me tell you, Arkansas has its share of great entrepreneurs,” Hutchinson said. “People who are willing to go out and invest capital, and to take risks because they want more in life. They want to create jobs; they want to be their own boss. That’s the spirit of America, and it’s reflected in the River Valley and this center that will be key in helping shape those entrepreneurs and providing them support.”
More than 300 people gathered at the Bakery District Wednesday for the opening, according to UAFS. Center for Business and Professional Development Director Kendall Ross said the three centers hosted within the CED serve every level of employer and employee in the River Valley. The center had a soft opening in January and has provided support for more than 250 individuals and 23 different organizations in the Bakery District.
UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley praised Hanna – who is also secretary of the UAFS Foundation Board – and the Hanna Group for developing the space that would allow for a new vision for how the university could use it.
“The truth is, I don’t think what we did here is exactly what Bill Hanna or the Hanna Group conceptualized in this space when we walked through in 2019,” she said, describing a space more focused on retail and industry. “But when we walked through, I said, ‘What if all of that starts because of what we do in this space? What if it grows and becomes something you could never have even conceived before we had this place?’”
She said that vision for the center will create a space for people to pursue a vision they have for a business.
“What we hope to achieve here is that the visionary people of Fort Smith, who start with a concept in their minds, will have an opportunity to learn how to create business plans and marketing plans, will learn how to get loans and be trained on almost every conceivable aspect of the business, right here,” she continued. “And guess what? It’s really cool. Everyone wants to be here.”
The total renovation cost for the space was $833,000, of which UAFS paid half and KMW Properties – owned by Hanna – paid the balance. UAFS will pay an annual lease of $165,000 for the first five years. UAFS will have seven employees at the center and two student workers.