by Max Brantley
Leslie Newell Peacock reports on an interview with UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson on a potential use of the facility to be built by the city-financed Little Rock Technology Park Authority:
Anderson has been out of town since returning from a trip to technology parks with the authority board and Mayor Mark Stodola. He talked to the Times last week.
Would a shuttle, such as the ones used in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, N.C., to transport researchers to a medical school and hospital a little over 2 miles away, be “easy access”? Possible, Anderson said, but he expects a shuttle system won’t be feasible until there are “a lot of people riding back and forth and my prediction would be that would be a number of years” off.
Anderson did not say what constituted easy access. But he did say that whatever place the Tech Park authority chooses to locate, he said he would be “a cheerleader” and that the university, which is one of the sponsors of the park “will do all it can” to make the park a success.
The tech park delegation visited the 200-acre Winston-Salem facility, founded by Wake Forest University, and the Cortex research hub in St. Louis in early July. Anderson said a parallel could not be drawn between those parks, which are heavily occupied by university departments, and Little Rock’s future park. The universities in St. Louis (including Washington University and St. Louis University) and Wake Forest are private, with considerable endowments. UALR and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, also a sponsor of the Little Rock park, are publicly funded and “in a different world.”
Both the St. Louis and Wake Forest parks also have significant private funding, including a $186 million investment from Wexford Science and Technology announced last year in St. Louis and R.J. Reynolds in Wake Forest.
Here, “development of a big project is going to have to be creative and entrepreneurial and go step by step” to make up for a lack of upfront private funding. “A great advantage we have is the vote of the people of Little Rock to make a major public investment in it.”
The Angle report on the feasibility of the tech park said the universities here will have to take a major role at first, becoming the major tenants. UAMS would theoretically lease space for embryonic companies that it has helped into being at its BioVentures technology center on campus, though its major capital contribution will be “intellectual” rather than monetary, its leadership has said. There will have to be investment from UALR, Anderson agreed, though how much would depend on location. “Certainly the farther away it is the harder to justify.”