by Mark Carter
Posted 7/30/2013 12:54 pm
Updated 12 months ago
A group of business leaders on Tuesday announced the Argenta Innovation Center, a 15,000-SF space designed to give local entrepreneurs a place to build their ideas and create new companies around technology and engineering.
The center is the first phase of the planned Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, which will include three components: the Silver Mine co-working space, the Fab Lab technology space, and the Art Connection, an after-school and summer art program for students.
Modeled after the Idea Village in New Orleans, the center is located in a building that once housed a police substation, sitting just a block off Main Street at the corner of West Fourth and Poplar streets in downtown North Little Rock.
The project is driven by the innovation hub's capital campaign committee, which is working to raise $2.5 million to purchase and renovate the building. So far, the committee has received pledges for about half the money it needs.
Harold Tenenbaum, a supporter of the project, owns the building. The committee will purchase it for $900,000, spend about $1.2 million for renovations, and spend another $400,000 for furnishings and fixtures.
The Art Connection, which is modeled after the Artists for Humanity program in Boston and opened last fall to North Little Rock High School art students, is already up and running. It will grow to 4,000-SF once renovations are complete. The Silver Mine will take up 9,400-SF, including a 3,950-SF loft space. The Fab Lab will occupy 6,780-SF.
Attracting, Retaining Entrepreneurs
Officials designing the hub envision a Google village-style atmosphere in Argenta with housing and more office space.
Committee chairman Barry Hyde, the former state legislator from North Little Rock and owner of Hydco Construction, said the center will help the region attract new talent and retain home-grown entrepreneurs. He cited studies that show for every 1 percent gain in residents with college degrees, the central Arkansas region stands to benefit $534 annually.
Committee members hope to have the center up and running by next spring. They expect fundraising through 2013. Taggart Architects of North Little Rock will handle the renovations.
Members of the Argenta Innovation Center Capital Campaign Committee are Hyde, Jerry Currence, John Gaudin, Jack Grundfest, Harry Hamlin, Donna Hardcastle, former North Little Rock mayor Pat Hays, David Hudson, Arlton Lowry, John Rogers, Maurice Taylor and Dustin Williams.
The announcement drew a crowd that included Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Grant Tennille; North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith; Chris Masingill, co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority; and state legislators from both sides of the Arkansas River.
As of July, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub listed 24 official partners and supporters, including Tennille, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Chancellor Joel Anderson, the Arkansas Capital Corporation Group, Gov. Mike Beebe, University of Arkansas System President Don Bobbitt, Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions Director Dan Curtis and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines.
The three components to the Innovation Center will be interconnected, and officials aim to create a "kinetic mix of talent and inspiration." Entrances to the Art Connection and Silver Mine will front West Fourth while the Fab Lab entrance will front Poplar.
The Silver Mine, like the Iceberg co-working space in Fayetteville, will serve as a community for the region's entrepreneurs and offer full- and part-time memberships as well as day passes. It'll offer high-speed Internet, conference space, dedicated and open co-working spaces, and open spaces for presentations and community events.
Lowry, a local entrepreneur/designer and one of the driving forces behind the Silver Mine, said the space will give many local entrepreneurs forced to work out of coffee shops a place to call home.
"They'll have a place to collaborate, share and build," Lowry said. He believes the establishment of a formal co-working space in central Arkansas could have a big effect on the local economy.
The Fab Lab will capitalize on the "maker space" trend, affording an introduction to engineering education for students on field trips, and serve as an "open-source hub" for where "engineers, tinkerers and entrepreneurs" can use advanced technologies to turn their ideas into something tangible.
The Art Connection teaches North Little Rock High School students about entrepreneurship through art and promotes higher education. Last fall's inaugural class included 20 students chosen from about 200 applicants, and plans are to serve up to 60 students annually.