Posted 12/10/2012 12:00 am
Updated 12 months ago
If Arkansas is ever to become something like a heartland Silicon Valley or Research Triangle, and there are education and business leaders in the state who think it reasonable to strive for such a designation, the Arkansas Research & Technology Park in Fayetteville will be the epicenter of that emergence.
Managed by the non-profit University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation, the park is many things, including the result of a collaborative effort to make research and development an affordable, local option.
Local business leaders joined UA officials in a unified resolve to give the region a “knowledge community” focused on innovation and technology development related to UA research.
The park, opened in 2007, has grown to encompass six cutting-edge facilities totaling almost 1 million square feet on its 25 acres in south Fayetteville. The park and the high-tech startups that call it home employ hundreds and provide an average annual salary of roughly $70,000, and several UA startups nurtured at the park sit on the verge of becoming national names.
The creation, continued growth and forward momentum generated by the park, as evidenced in recent commercialization deals signed by firms such as NanoMech, Space Photonics and Arkansas Power Electronics International, signal the state’s emergence on the national technology radar.
The efforts of the UA and local business and civic leaders to create the park and help make it a success have earned Fayetteville a 2012 Arkansas Business City of Distinction award for technology advancements.
“When we began to envision the park, we knew it wouldn’t happen without the support of our many partners,” said Phil Stafford, president of the UATDF. “They understood the importance of a knowledge-based community to the economy of northwest Arkansas.”
Those partners include the city of Fayetteville, Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, Northwest Arkansas Business Council, Northwest Arkansas Labor Council and individual local businesses.
The park includes unique research resources: the RFID Research Laboratory, the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission, the High Density Electronics Center, the Genesis Technology Incubator, the Innovation Center and the Enterprise Center, opened in 2010 and providing 56,000 SF of lab, office and manufacturing space.
Nanotechnology, supply chain logistics, power electronics, electronic packaging and green tech development are among the disciplines researched and developed at the park.
“The park is poised to grow even more companies looking to gain a competitive advantage,” Stafford said. “Ideas can be fostered affordably with access to the necessary equipment needed to become realities.”
The park is helping attract new workers and convince the state’s best and brightest minds to stay home.
“For years, I’ve seen the U of A educate many fine young people in science and engineering, only to have these young graduate and leave the state to find the high-paying tech jobs for which they’ve trained,” Stafford said. “We want to give Arkansas’ best and brightest a place to work here in the state if they choose.”
An average salary more than twice the median household income in Arkansas will help do that.
The work at the park represents highly specialized jobs for highly trained people, and Stafford said the startups spawned at and recruited to the park do more than just bring new jobs to the state.
“Higher wage earners have more disposable income. That provides a boost to the local economy and the tax base,” he said.
Several park startups now compete globally in their fields. Daniel Poneman, deputy director for the U.S. Department of Energy, visited the park earlier this year and came away impressed.
“The level of innovation and creativity here is equal to any I’ve seen,” he said.