Site Chosen, but Little Rock Tech Park Details Lacking

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 12:00 am  

“If you build it, he will come” was Ray Kinsella’s mantra in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.” It also seems to be the attitude of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority in completing its long-awaited research and technology park project.

The project is intended to provide a space for researchers from local universities to turn their research into business. For the past two years, the authority’s board of directors has been fighting an increasingly bumpy battle over the location of the park.

Many of the potential locations near Little Rock’s universities would have involved bulldozing parts of residential areas, sparking anger in those neighborhoods. After many months of debate, the seven-member board finally voted four-three to locate the park, now more of a “technology corridor,” in downtown Little Rock.

Though that challenge is out of the way, the authority still has very little in the way of tenants who have agreed to set up shop.

“It’s hard,” said Jay Chesshir, CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and spokesman for and member of the authority’s board. “You have to have a place to invite them to come be a part of. … Again, without the place it’s difficult to even ask someone to be interested.”

Perhaps it’s time to back out and ask the question: What is the technology park supposed to actually accomplish?

The park’s most direct inspiration is the Arkansas Research & Technology Park on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville. It essentially started in 1986 with the Genesis Technology Incubator facility. A strategic plan for growth into a full-fledged research park was created in 2002, and the UA Technology Development Foundation was created in 2003. The same year, the foundation broke ground on a new innovation center, and it was dedicated in 2004. Other parts of the park were created between then and 2010.

It’s helped incubate businesses like Space Photonics Inc. and Silicon Solar Solutions and currently hosts about 35 businesses. “We’re still functioning under that same strategic plan,” said Phillip Stafford, president of the park.

Besides the Fayetteville park, Chesshir said major inspiration comes from two other similar projects around the country: Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis and the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Those entities host businesses across the incubation spectrum, starting from mere ideas to fully realized companies. Essentially, they move businesses through three stages: ideation, realization and commercialization. That’s what would be going on at the Little Rock technology corridor.

“In a simple form, it’s really three different levels of companies,” Chesshir said. “That’s the spectrum: from the very beginning stages to commercially profitable in the marketplace, and all things in between.”

But beyond that idea, the tech corridor doesn’t have much else to show for itself.



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