An impressive lineup of businessmen and state and city officials announced this morning the creation of the Argenta Innovation Center, a place for entrepreneurial start ups in digital technology and engineering experimentation that will fill out the building now occupied by the Art Connection at 204 E. 4th St. in North Little Rock.
Arkansas Economic Development Director Grant Tennille; Barry Hyde, of Hyde Co. contractors; and Chris Masengill, co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority, talked about the need for the state to support creativity and new business. Tennille cited Forrest Wood as an example of what one person can do for the economy's, saying the boat business Wood started in his garage turned into a worldwide lifestyle industry, spawning television shows and clothing. "It started with a simple idea ... and it grew," Tennille said. The Innovation Center will be "a place for people with great ideas to come together."
An enthusiastic Masengill said, "I don't know what's in the water over here in Argenta, but it's exciting." He said the Innovation Center will create a "pipeline" of ideas and an "ecosystem" that generates new manufacturing jobs all over the state. State Rep. Warwick Sabin sounded the same note, saying that all of Central Arkansas should get behind the Argenta center.
The Art Connection, an after-school work program connected to the arts now a year old, will be joined by the Silver Mine, a collaborative work space for entrepreneurs similar to the Icebox in Fayetteville, and the Fab Lab, a maker space open to the community equipped with computers and a 3D printer. Hyde said the budget for acquiring, renovating and equipping the building is $2.5 million, and nearly half of that has been raised. Building owners Harold Tenenbaum and Jack Grundfest discounted the building sale cost by $350,000 to $900,000, so enough has been raised so far to purchase the building. Renovation should cost $1.2 million and furnishings $400,000. The Art Connection and tenants in the Silver Mine will lease space from the owner of the building, the Argenta Arts Foundation; access to the community Fab Lab will be through memberships.
The Argenta Innovation Center has been in the planning stage for a couple of years by Argenta investor John Gaudin, whose idea the Art Connection was; Jerry Currence; Jack Grundfest; Harry Hamlin; Donna Hardcastle; former Mayor Patrick Hays; David Hudson; Arlton Lowry; John Rogers, Maurice Taylor and Dustin Williams. It is phase one of what will be known as the Regional Innovation Hub.
Press release on the jump.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK TO BE HOME
TO EXCITING ECONOMIC VENTURE
Argenta Innovation Center/Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub
North Little Rock - The Capital Campaign Committee for the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub announced today that the region's next job creator and economic boon is well on its way to becoming reality.
The Argenta Innovation Center, which will be the first phase of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, will house three inter-connected ventures that will work together to provide education, training, prototyping and startup and entrepreneurial opportunities.
The Argenta Innovation Center will be the result of private and public investment. Having secured pledges for close to half of the $2.5 million project, the fund-raising for the Argenta Innovation Center now enters the public phase of its campaign.
"We strongly believe that by creating the Argenta Innovation Center, we are taking a significant step toward creating cutting-edge jobs that not only attract new talent to the area but also help us keep our brightest and most inventive entrepreneurs right here in Central Arkansas," said Barry Hyde, campaign committee chairman.
By retaining and attracting educated, creative entrepreneurs for Central Arkansas, the Argenta Innovation Center will add significantly to Central Arkansas's economy: studies show that for every 1 percent gain in college-degreed citizens, Central Arkansas stands to gain $534 million annually.
A similar venture - The Idea Village in New Orleans - boasts creating 2,000 jobs and generating $100 million each year.
The Argenta Innovation Center will house a kinetic mix of talent and inspiration. Students, workers and hobbyists - or learners, makers and doers - will find a creative coexistence in:
o The Silver Mine - a co-work community for the most creative entrepreneurs. Already, individual entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes are signing up to have employees placed in The Silver Mine in order to capitalize on the creative climate and exchange of ideas.
o Fab Lab - a space where youth and adults use advanced technologies make their ideas something tangible and sellable. During the day, the Fab Lab will be a natural field trip destination for Arkansas schools. Plus, the potential of introductory engineering education exists for middle school , high school and even college students. At night, the Fab Lab will be something of an "open-source" hub for makers of all ages. Already, companies are eager to support the Fab Lab as they know they will have a new source of bold ideas as well as skilled engineers and technicians.
o Art Connection - an innovative program where students from North Little Rock High School already are creating a future through art. Twenty students (out of 200 applicants) learned visual arts and entrepreneurial skills last year. At the beginning of the school year, only half of the students in the program expressed interest in pursuing higher education. Now, all do, and all five of the program's 2013 high school graduates are enrolled in four-year colleges.
"Place is an important factor in creating innovative centers and hubs," said committee member John Gaudin. "Argenta already provides the hip, urban culture that attracts the next generation of highly-skilled workers, so it's a natural location for the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. We're excited to kick-start the project with the Argenta Innovation Center."
The Argenta Innovation Center Capital Campaign Committee hopes to complete fund-raising efforts by the end of 2013 begin construction in January 2014 and open the Argenta Innovation Center in summer 2014.
More information about the Argenta Information Center is available at http://innovateargenta.com/and about The Silver Mine at www.argentasilvermine.com/.
Argenta Innovation Center...the next BIG idea!