Remember the mixed-use coworking space that was going to move into the Northwest Arkansas Mall? The company, Anchor, still exists but the COVID-19 pandemic squashed those grand plans from a couple years ago to create a business support ecosystem for companies large, small and everything in between.
Anchor founder Becca Shaddox said the pandemic shut down her plans just before all the paperwork was signed and sealed, which she called “fortuitous.”
Fortuitous, obviously, because the last thing you want to do just before a pandemic forces social and economic lockdowns is to sign an expensive lease. Anchor planned to use 55,000 SF of the 137,000-SF former Sears site at the mall; Sears closed the store in 2018 and it has remained unused since.
Shaddox said she was lining up investors, negotiating with the property’s management and having architectural designs drawn for the space when the pandemic started.
“It was put on pretty much a complete hold because of the pandemic,” Shaddox said. “We were still in negotiations on the space, and fortunately for us, we didn’t get that through before the pandemic hit and everybody shut down. For now until that kind of looks in another direction — to be honest we haven’t even had a conversation with the people who own the mall.”
Shaddox is former STEM director for Walmart Inc. of Bentonville and is the COO of the technology company i2i Labs of Rogers. She is still a believer in Anchor, which was going to be a support and innovation sharing space for companies.
“It’s a potential,” Shaddox said. “We are leaving it on the table for us. It would be part of the value proposition of i2i Labs. It is a co-partnership there. Until things open back up, we are just kind of waiting to see. I still believe we eventually get back to that. I just don’t know when that may happen.”
On the bright side, i2i Labs is doing well. Shaddox said the initial transition to virtual consulting and work with clients was awkward but now virtual meetings are the norm. How to work from home was the big concern, not incorporating innovation into their businesses.
“It was a struggle in the beginning because everyone was focused on the pandemic,” Shaddox said. “People were not looking at innovation quite the same way. It slowed a little, but now people are very eager to have conversations and talk with people virtually.”