(Editor's Note: Each year, Arkansas Business partners with the Arkansas Municipal League to present the Trendsetter City awards, which recognize exceptional initiatives underway in municipalities across the state. Large, medium and small-sized cities were honored in six categories: Education & Workforce Development; Environmental & Green Management Practices; Infrastructure & Water; Public Safety; Tourism Development & Creative Culture; and Wellness & Fitness. Below is one winner's story. For more, click here.)
Education & Workforce Development
Winner • 20,000 or Greater
In 2018, construction began on a 100,000-SF expansion to the Fayetteville Public Library (FPL). This included the Center for Innovation and Teaching Kitchen, which are state-of-the-art spaces dedicated to the needs of the community that connect workforces to industry by providing free access to training for in-demand jobs.
Opened in January 2021, the expanded FPL redefines the traditional public library model, taking its mission — empowering citizens through free and public access to knowledge — to the next level by connecting the community to technology and educational resources that may otherwise be out of reach.
Mayor: Lioneld Jordan
Along with providing free workforce education, or re-education for those looking to change career paths, FPL’s new offerings are a resource for people new to the region. By offering these services, Fayetteville is providing equitable, accessible opportunities for upward mobility and helping create a strong, diverse workforce in Northwest Arkansas’ rapidly growing economy.
The city has partnered with local restaurant owners and chefs, as well as Startup Junkie, NorthWest Arkansas Community College’s Brightwater Center and the Fayetteville Independent Business Alliance. The goals of the Teaching Kitchen are to introduce the public to nutrition and cooking courses, as well as give students the skills needed to enter the food industry job market and help local restaurants find candidates for open positions.
In Arkansas, 25% of children are classified as food insecure. The Teaching Kitchen gives the library a chance to provide vital education on healthy nutrition habits, cooking methods and sustainable produce growth and use. Food insecurity perpetuates the cycle of poverty, and FPL is dedicated to providing education and relief for those in need.
The full-scale, 1,825-SF, 16-station commercial kitchen is both a classroom — where courses focus on areas like knife skills and safe food handling — and an operational working environment. Students are given the opportunity to serve guests of the 700-seat Event Center next door, transforming the Teaching Kitchen into a working front- and back-of-house operation.
Students are prepared for the ServSafe exam to earn the certification which all caterers and instructors are required to have to use the Teaching Kitchen. It provides participants with basic food safety knowledge, and most health departments require at least one manager on site to be certified.
Also, the Teaching Kitchen partners with Fayetteville High School so students can earn concurrent credit before graduation. Instructors help program graduates apply for at least three local jobs of their choosing.
U.S. News & World Report ranked Fayetteville No. 4 among its 150 Best Places to Live in 2021-2022.
As they prepare to apply, instructors help participants build their resumes and work on interview skills. As restaurants continue struggling to find and retain qualified staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FPL Teaching Kitchen is helping build the next skilled workforce, which pays multiple dividends for the local economy.
The FPL expansion was made possible through a public-private partnership. It was paid for in part by a temporary millage increase approved by residents in 2016 to fund $26.5 million of the $49.9 million total project budget. The remaining $23 million continues to be raised privately through a capital campaign.
Facilities include the The J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Center for Innovation; simulation lab; audio, video, virtual reality and photography studios; fabrication and robotics lab, computer collaboration space, podcasting booth and editing suite.