FORT SMITH -- River Valley businesses and entrepreneurs will soon be able to take advantage of programs designed to help them in a more convenient, centrally located facility.
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is nearing completion on a new space for its Center for Business and Professional Development and Family Enterprise Center, as well as the Fort Smith regional office of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center.
Kendall Ross, director of the Center for Business and Professional Development and Family Enterprise Center, estimated the new space, in the Bakery District at 70 S. Seventh St., would be open to the public about Jan. 3. The three entities moving there are now housed in the Flanders Business Center as part of the university's College of Business and Industry, according to the university's website.
Ross said the change in scenery will give the programs an opportunity to go into downtown Fort Smith and create a center anyone can walk into, adding convenience to these programs' services.
"It doesn't matter if they've never started a business but want to, or if they're a member of a Fortune 100 company that needs professional development or upskilling," Ross said. "All of that can be located in one particular center and we can provide that solution for them."
Ross also believes some people would prefer not to go onto the university's campus to use the programs because they're intimidated by its size.
Bill Sabo, regional director for the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the university, similarly called the accessibility and proximity to the community this new location will provide "huge." There are difficulties associated with parking and finding a building on a college campus along with the intimidation factor, he said.
"It is, for some people, a very different place to be," Sabo said.
In contrast, the Bakery District is in the heart of the community and very accessible, according to Sabo. The new space will also provide a consolidated area devoted to the three entities that will be there and have both the space to hold large groups of people for seminars and training and technological capabilities to support specific functions, among other benefits.
"I see this as a very, hopefully, hustling and bustling environment," Sabo said.
The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the university serves Crawford, Scott and Sebastian counties, according to information from the program's lead center in Little Rock. The program works with prospective and current owners of all types of businesses that have up to 500 employees to help with every aspect of business creation, management and operation. It provides consulting and resources, like market research, free of charge, along with training and events.
The university was announced as a site for a new Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center regional office along with three other universities in February, a news release from the center states. The office opened in August after Sabo was chosen as regional director, according to the university.
The university's Center for Business and Professional Development offers custom training programs and consulting services, the university website states. It also has professional development programming. The Family Enterprise Center provides educational programs and support to family-owned businesses.
Steve Clark, CEO and founder of the company Propak in downtown Fort Smith and member of the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District Commission, said the city continues to enjoy momentum in the redevelopment of its downtown sector. He believes the three entities moving into one location at the Bakery District will have a positive impact on small businesses and entrepreneurs in the area by clearly identifying and establishing resources available to them.
"So many times, speaking from personal experience, when you're starting out, it's difficult to know exactly where to go for resources, it's difficult to know what may be at your disposal," Clark said.
Bill Hanna, president of Hanna Oil and Gas, said he welcomed the presence of these three programs in the downtown area. He has been a member of the Family Enterprise Center since it began.
KMW Properties, a separate Fort Smith-based company that is a subset of Hanna Oil and Gas, owns the Bakery District, Hanna said.
Ross said the concept for the Bakery District project was instigated in late 2019 by Terisa Riley, university chancellor. The university began developing the Bakery District space in November 2020. Construction started in January.
The project includes building a classroom that seats 45 people and another that seats 75 on the first floor, according to Ross. The classrooms are connected and a moveable wall separating them can be opened to host larger seminars and events.
The upstairs portion of the space will have offices for each of the three entities with room for expansion, Ross said. It will also include two collaboration areas that can be used for a variety of purposes and hold 24 people each, as well as an executive conference room that can seat 24 people.
"So we really designed it so as to meet needs at a lot of different levels and a lot of different sizes," Ross said.
The Bakery District space is about 10,000 square feet, Ross said.
Bakery District Space
The University of Arkansas System trustees approved a request from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to lease and improve about 10,000 square feet of space at the Bakery District on Dec. 15. The work on the space is expected to cost $833,293, which will be split evenly between the university and KMW Properties. The university’s lease on the property will begin either Dec. 1 or Jan. 1 and include the following annual rates:
• $165,143 for years 1-5
• $181,657 for years 6-10
• $199,822 for years 11-15
• $226,399 for years 16-20
Source: Rachel Putman, UAFS associate director for strategic communication