AEDC Gives Innovation Hub $575K for Argenta Innovation Center

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub officially began renovations Tuesday on what will become the Argenta Innovation Center, thanks to a $575,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

The Hub is renovating the former North Little Rock police substation at Broadway and Poplar to create the innovation center, which will include the Launch Pad technology maker space, the Silver Mine co-working space, the STEAM Lab space for STEM education, and the already up-and-running Art Connection after-school and summer work program for students.

The space will include the Hub's offices, currently located at 705 Main in downtown North Little Rock. Hub officials hope to model the center after the Idea Village in New Orleans and provide an anchor for the Argenta Arts District.   

In all, the center will provide entrepreneurial resources for all ages in a 17,000-SF space and will front East Broadway. Innovation Hub director Warwick Sabin expects renovations to be complete within 60 to 90 days. Taggart Architects of Little Rock is overseeing the renovations.

Launch Pad director Joel Gordon said the maker space will be open during after-school hours to all students -- public, private, charter and home-schooled. In the evenings and on weekends, it will become a member space for individuals and companies. 

Students from eStem High School, North Little Rock High School and Pulaski County home-school programs helped lead Tuesday's "wallbreaking" ceremony, in which a small maker robot, or "bot," officially punched through the first wall to be razed in the facility.

Gov. Mike Beebe, AEDC director Grant Tennille, North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and Delta Regional Authority co-chairman Chris Masingill participated in Tuesday's ceremony. In December, the DRA awarded a $250,000 grant to the Hub for program support and administrative operations at the innovation center.

"The nature of our economy is changing, and if our state wants to compete for the best and brightest minds, we need to change the way we think and do business," Beebe said. "The Innovation Hub attracts those who think outside the box and who will forever change the economic climate in the area. They will be our business leaders of tomorrow."

Sabin said officials of the nonprofit Hub studied best practices and models from across the country to build the vision for the Argenta Innovation Center, which he hopes serves as a model for the rest of the state. 

"We will provide the opportunity for everyone to discover and develop their interests and talents and unlock their unlimited potential," he said. 

The Launch Pad will provide cutting-edge tools and technology including 3-D printers and laser-cutting machines for "tinkerers" who are looking to build anything from a dog house to a drone, Gordon said. 

The Silver Mine will serve as a co-working space for entrepreneurs and small business owners that will host events and entrepreneurial education opportunites. It will also include business acceleration programs from which officials hope to launch new startups. 

The STEAM Lab, in partnership with Little Rock's EAST Initiative, will offer STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education with a touch of the arts in classroom and lab settings.

The Art Connection is designed to develop leadership and innovation through hands-on training in visual arts. Already open at Poplar and Fourth in downtown North Little Rock in what will become the Innovation Center's north side, it is modeled after the Artists for Humanity program in Boston.