State of the South Report Cites Innovation Hub as Key to Arkansas Growth

State of the South Report Cites Innovation Hub as Key to Arkansas Growth
Warwick Sabin, director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, which was featured in the 2014 State of the South report from MDC. (Michael Pirnique)

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock and its efforts to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and access to the "knowledge" economy were lauded in the just-released 2014 State of the South report from MDC.

MDC is a nonprofit organization based in Durham, N.C. Founded as Manpower Development Corporation in 1967, MDC annually publishes the report focusing on educational and vocational challenges facing the South. Don Munro, CEO of Munro & Co. in Hot Springs, sits on the MDC board of directors.

The 2014 report — available here (PDF) — says Arkansas must continue growing access to knowledge-based jobs in the state. It cites the Innovation Hub and the growing number of resources made available in recent years as helping grow the innovation economy and making it available to more people.

"Arkansas is making progress in building a stronger pipeline and placing 'new steps of change' that support everyone," writes author Shun Robertson. "To move forward, the state must continue to build strategies that develop, retain, and recruit youth and young adults of all races and socioeconomic statuses."

From the report:

In North Little Rock, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub is trying to create prosperity by building innovative approaches to help low-income students move from schools into the labor market via entrepreneurship opportunities. Creators of this public-private partnership are developing "a collaborative ecosystem of innovation that drives economic development" ...

... John Gaudin, a member of the Innovation Hub’s Board of Directors, says people all over the state, including the governor, are assessing whether this incubation model is replicable in other areas of Arkansas. "This is an opportunity for students to access the latest and greatest in manufacturing—access they would not have otherwise."

While many Southern states focus on recruiting big businesses, Arkansas is recruiting from within. "Everybody wants to cut a ribbon on a big manufacturing plant," says State Representative and Innovation Hub Executive Director Warwick Sabin. "It’s less sexy to focus on small business. Most of our businesses are small business. They are more sustainable. We’ll always be outbid for large industrial projects because other states will always have more money. It's a losing and outdated strategy."

To cultivate startup business development, Arkansas must provide more youth and young adults with opportunities to foster their entrepreneurial skills—opportunities like the Innovation Hub.