FORT SMITH -- Both established and aspiring entrepreneurs in the River Valley will be able to network with and hear from like-minded peers at a free, business-oriented summit this week.
64.6 Downtown, a nonprofit organization in Fort Smith, will team with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's Center for Economic Development and the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center to host the annual Invest Fort Smith on Wednesday . The event will be from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Center for Economic Development in the Bakery District at 70 S. Seventh St. in downtown Fort Smith.
Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown, said the purpose is to ignite entrepreneurs in the River Valley area. It also provides a networking opportunity for those interested in starting or expanding their business and finding out what related opportunities exist in downtown Fort Smith.
Richardson said businesses are still struggling from the covid-19 pandemic.
"People want to network," Richardson said. "They want to meet people and have an exchange with individuals that are like them, that are in this thing called business, and they want to stay in business."
Bill Sabo, regional director for the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at UAFS, which serves Crawford, Scott and Sebastian counties, said much of Invest Fort Smith is about communicating entrepreneurial developments in the River Valley. He said entrepreneurs often work in a vacuum and being able to see such developments helps with inspiration for their own endeavors.
"It really helps when other people, other entrepreneurs, small businesses, can see things happening, and whether it's creating collaboration, whether it's getting an idea or just telling a story about this area, I think it's really important," Sabo said.
Kendall Ross, executive director of the UAFS Center for Economic Development, said entrepreneurs face a variety of challenges, and, while his center may not have the solution, it's the nexus to help them find it. Invest Fort Smith is a way to help connect entrepreneurs to people who may have already experienced the same problems they have and worked out solutions.
Wednesday's Invest Fort Smith will feature three panel discussions, each devoted to a specific topic, according to a 64.6 Downtown news release. They include:
• 1:30 p.m. -- Contracting with Governments and Schools: Learn from the procurement departments of government agencies and educational institutions about their product/service needs while gaining understanding of the process to become a vendor.
• 2:30 p.m. -- Economic Benefits of Inclusion: Learn why it's important to business sustainability for entrepreneurs and businesses to engage in promoting inclusivity within business practices related to hiring and promotion, customer relations and supplier diversity.
• 3:30 p.m. -- Preparing for Business Growth: Learn how the community can prepare for opportunities developed around military installations and other businesses in the pipeline.
Richardson said 64.6 Downtown will "scratch the surface" of diversity, equity and inclusion with these panel discussions.
"We want to discuss how individuals that are in business, or would like to be in business, can truly incorporate DEI principles within their work practices," Richardson said. "How do you have diversification of your supply chain? How do you ensure you have bilingual staff to meet the needs of not only your customers, but growing customers?"
Richardson said the Fort Smith area will have increased volumes of diversity if a proposed military mission comes to Ebbing Air National Guard Base.
Ebbing at Fort Smith Regional Airport was selected last year as the Air Force's preferred location for a pilot training center for Singapore and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales program. The proposal would accommodate up to 24 foreign Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft and move 12 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Singapore Air Force, currently at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz.
Richardson believes the community has a responsibility to welcome people with essential amenities, not just those pertaining to culture and arts.
"We don't know what we don't know, and so by just having this exchange, we're going to challenge the community to dust off their research and really get involved in welcoming this mission and all of the other ancillary businesses that will be coming into the Fort Smith market as a result of this mission," Richardson said.
Richardson said more than 40 people were registered. The summit is limited to 100 registrants, although walk-ins will be welcome if seats are available. Registration will be open until Tuesday .
The first 50 people who register for the event online will receive a free "swag bag" of items provided by local businesses valued at $50, the news release states. The businesses include Fort Smith Brewing Co., Fort Smith Coffee Co., Olen & Co. Market and Sacred Treasure.
Kaity Gould, who owns Fort Smith Coffee Co. with her husband, Gabe Gould, said she was a panelist at the first Invest Fort Smith summit in 2018. Her panel consisted of other female entrepreneurs.
Gould described her experience as smooth, informative and nonpretentious, as well as empowering. She believes Invest Fort Smith encourages momentum for entrepreneurs and businesses in the River Valley.
"It was nice to be surrounded with other like-minded individuals, with tenacity and passion for seeing growth in our city," Gould said.
The three panels that will comprise this year’s Invest Fort Smith will consist of:
Contracting with Governments and Schools
• Rhonda Caton, director of procurement and contracts, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
• Kimberly Randle, procurement counselor, University of Arkansas’ Cooperative Extension Procurement Technical Assistance Center.
• Alie Bahsoon, Fort Smith purchasing manager.
• Lauri Lowrimore, Sebastian County purchasing administrator.
• Craig Tecmire, Fort Smith School District supervisor of purchasing.
Economic Benefits of Inclusion
• Chris Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.
• Tina Gilbert, founder and chief people strategist, Next Level Training Solutions Group.
Preparing for Business Growth
• George McGill, Fort Smith mayor.
• Dr. Jessiela Roberts, cofounder-medical director, Palliative Health Solutions, assistant professor, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, family medicine program, Fort Smith.
• Jason Turner, vice president, talent and growth initiatives, ArcBest.
• Latisha Settlage, dean of the College of Business and Industry, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Source: 64.6 Downtown