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Tech park board picks Birch for director

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published June 4, 2014 at 8:49 a.m. Updated June 4, 2014 at 1:47 p.m.

The Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board voted Wednesday to hire Brent Birch as director.

The board also voted to begin negotiations with Birch, chief information officer at Arkansas Business Publishing Group, "in the hopes that he will accept this position," Little Rock Chamber President and board member Jay Chessir said on the conference call meeting.

Board Chairman Mary Good said Birch's pay is not to exceed $100,000.

Good said the board would meet again in executive session to choose from the other finalists if it is unable to reach an agreement with Birch, who was selected in a 6-0 vote.

"We feel that Brent is going to be an excellent candidate, and we hope this negotiation with him is successful," she said.

Birch, 43, said he spoke briefly with Chessir by phone Wednesday morning and anticipated the negotiations would go smoothly and not turn into a "long, drawn-out effort." He said he could start as early as July, though it will depend on the discussions.

Birch said he was "humbled and honored" by his selection and looks forward to shaping what the tech park will become.

"It's hard to tell at this point just because it doesn't exist," he said. "My intention to get started is to meet with the stakeholders ... to get a feel for what their expectations and needs are for the tech park and then come back and put all those pieces together and see how that evolves and what we end up doing."

Birch, who has worked in downtown Little Rock for Arkansas Business since 2000, said he is in favor of the plan to place the park in the city's redeveloping Main Street corridor. He said the street is the "hub of the city" and is undergoing a revival that will attract all sorts of businesses.

"To have an opportunity to be in the middle of that activity is only a benefit to the tech park as it evolves and becomes what it will be," he said.

The board met by phone shortly after 8 a.m. and went into executive session to discuss the pool of finalists, which had been narrowed to six after a full day of interviews last week.

The tech park will offer space and access to local research resources for startup companies that may then create jobs in the area. The tech park's website says it should be "a major economic driver for the next 30 years" through "employment and payroll creation."

The technology park, the first in the region, is a partnership among the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce; the city of Little Rock; the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In 2011, Little Rock voters approved a citywide sales-tax increase with $22 million of the new revenue dedicated for development of the tech park.

The other finalists for the director position were:

• Thomas Chilton, director of entrepreneurship and technology development at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

• Elizabeth Hood, Lipscomb distinguished professor of agriculture at Arkansas State University.

• Brian Rogers, director of intellectual property and the Catalyst Innovation Accelerator at ASU.

• Scott Shellabarger, information-technology manager at NovaSys Health.

• Johnny Kincaid, chief operating officer at Whisenhunt Investment Group.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more on this story.


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