Northark Gets $3M From State for Innovation Center

Northark Gets $3M From State for Innovation Center
A rendering of the Center for Robotics and Manufacturing Innovation planned for Northark in Harrison. (Northark)

North Arkansas College in Harrison said Thursday that it received funding that will help make the high-tech manufacturing and robotics training facility it envisions a reality.

The state has committed $3 million to the construction of the school's $8 million, 32,000-SF Center for Robotics & Manufacturing Innovation, which has been planned for two years.

Northark expects the project to receive a $2 million to $3 million Economic Development Administration Grant through its partnership with the Northwest Economic Development District and $700,000 from the Boone County Economic Development Committee. The school previously received $773,000 in private and local grants and plans to contribute $1.57 million of its own money to the project.

Micki Somers, Northark's director of marketing and public relations, said there isn't a construction timeline yet, but the college expects all the funding for the center to be worked out within the next six to eight months.

Interim President Don Sugg has been spearheading the project, following past President Randy Esters' resignation in May. 

"The CRMI facility is crucial for the training and development of lucrative highly-skilled professional careers for our area citizens and to meet the ever-changing technological requirements of a trained workforce for our area manufacturers," Sugg said in a news release. "There is still work to do but last week we took a major step towards the goal and we all have reason to celebrate the success and advancement of Northark and the people it serves or will serve in the future."

Somers told Arkansas Business that the new facility being built to change students' negative perception of manufacturing as a career path. The new center will house manufacturing, machining, robotics, electronic and IT programs.

“We're doing it because manufacturing has a perception of being a hot and sweaty trade to go into," she said. "We really want a facility that portrays a high-tech image for these careers to change the perception of students because we've seen that a lot of them aren’t entering those careers, and we've got so many jobs that are unfilled.

"We're trying to change the perception with the high-tech building and equipment so that it matches the real world picture of the careers they are actually going to go into, instead of having an older, rundown building that's not appealing.”

All of the programs going into the center, except for the IT program, are housed on the college's north campus. Northark said moving them will mark the first step in its master plan to move all programs to the south campus.

In addition, the school's first-ever new residence hall will be built on the south campus, which has space to accomodate all of Northark's operations, Somers said.