Newport Tech Academy Gets $2.5M Federal Grant

Newport Tech Academy Gets $2.5M Federal Grant
Bill Yoder, executive director of the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (file) (Karen E. Segrave)

The U.S. Economic Development Administration has awarded a $2.5 million grant to Newport's Tech Depot IT Apprenticeship Academy, the city and its Newport Economic Development Commission.

The commission said Tuesday that it will match the grant with $625,000 to build a 12,000-SF facility to house Tech Depot. 

"This is a huge day for economic development in Newport," Mayor David Stewart said in a news release. "The new Tech Depot facility will allow our citizens to access the training and skills to work with any company in the world, and often they will be able to work remotely and continue to live and raise their families here."

The city expects construction to take 18 to 24 months. When it's done, the facility will contain a co-working space, an IT incubator for entrepreneurs, shared office space for companies who use the facility and a test and training room for apprenticeship programs. 

The Arkansas Center for Data Sciences is working to attract participating companies and apprentices to the project, and Arkansas State University-Newport is finalizing a curriculum.

"This is another huge step forward for apprenticeship programs in Arkansas," ACDS Executive Director Bill Yoder said. "We have experience in IT and apprenticeships, and ASU-Newport has experience in technical curriculum development and delivery, and now with this facility we have all the tools for world-class IT training in Newport, Arkansas." 

The city describes Tech Depot as the centerpiece of its Downtown Technology Park, known as DTech Park. DTech Park aims to help tech companies secure a remote work location, find office space, forge a partnership with Tech Depot or find incentives to start or expand their businesses.

Tech Depot will begin operations in the historic Iron Mountain Train Depot in downtown Newport and move into its new facility later.

The city said Tech Depot's inaugural classes will have more than 40 apprentices supporting companies in Newport, Batesville and Jonesboro. The program aims to have classes of more than 100 people every six months by the end of the third year. Companies with IT employee needs can either send a worker for apprenticeship training or work with the ACDS to find an apprentice to hire and train at the Tech Depot. 

"The partnership between the Newport Economic Development Commission, ASU-Newport and the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences is allowing us to support our existing industries by helping them grow the information technology talent they need right here in Arkansas," Jon Chadwell, the NEDC's executive director, said. "In addition, we believe that having this resource to develop IT talent will attract other companies who are having challenges finding qualified employees for these positions." 

The Arkansas congressional delegation worked with the city and the grant writing team at White River Planning and Development District to secure the grant from the Economic Development Administration.