Governor Asa Hutchinson visited Fort Smith today for the official opening of the University of Arkansas Fort Smith (UAFS) of its new Economic Development Center (EDC) in the Bakery District of downtown.
Among other economic developments in Arkansas, the governor announced that Arkansas had overtaken Pennsylvania as the top steel producer in America.
Bill Hanna, president and chairman of the board of directors of Hanna Oil and Gas Company and a member of the UAFS Family Enterprise Center and the University Foundation Board of Directors, said the CED was the beginning of the Family Enterprise Center .
He said his family is very lucky to be in their second generation of business together. He recalled that the governor talked about the development of the first-generation family business and the difficulty of getting started.
“With ours, it started with one person and one idea and it kept working and that, it didn’t stop,” he said. “Even when it wasn’t working, he kept working. I admire that tenacity that it took for the owners, founders and visionaries of the first generation family to get the ball rolling and there are many like that here today’ today. But to get to the second generation, that doesn’t happen statistically.”
Michael Barr, chairman of the university’s board of visitors and president of Weather Bar Windows and Doors.
He noted that the Future Fit program educates entry-level workers, ensuring we can position the unemployed and underemployed to succeed, personalized training and counseling, coaches company employees to improve operations and capitalizing on opportunities, university staff have delivered more than 24,000 hours of personalized training to local businesses.
The university is very committed to professional development opportunities, offering 19,000 hours in a range of skill-building training for many different workers. Over the past five years, the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) has served 217 local businesses and helped secure $6.4 million in funding. Barr thanked the governor, center staff, university leadership and business leaders in attendance.
“It’s your efforts that make the difference and your focus that allows us to make Fort Smith a great place to live, a place to raise a family and a place to do business,” he said.
Latisha Settlage, Dean of the College of Business and Industry, explained how the new Economic Development Center has evolved its curriculum to offer a new path of concentration in small business management through ASBTDC.
“The Family Business Center and ASBTDC provide exceptional opportunities to engage these students right here at the center in real-life project-based learning,” she said.
Workforce development, career development, and those looking to start a business can all be part of the new center. The center is for business outreach, it does not offer UAFS accredited courses. It offers educational program services that students can participate in for free.
“We would definitely evaluate the results, so our legacy – is the experience rewarding? Does it add to how they can get jobs? Are they able to progress faster after experiencing some of the activities what are we doing?” said Settlage.
Lean Six Sigma courses on how to eliminate waste and improve efficiency in a work environment will be available at the center. According to the university, it is a fact-based, data-driven improvement philosophy that drives customer satisfaction and bottom line results by reducing variation, wasted advertising cycle time, while favoring the use of standardization and flow. Ultimately, this creates a competitive advantage.
Companies that need space for professional development training or workforce development, business consulting, research projects, are all potential organizations that can use the new CED.
“Being here, it will continue to attract other investors to this area and downtown,” Settlage said. “It’s really a partnership. And all of those dollars, every dollar that goes into Fort Smith Coffee Co. is going to pay the people who work (there) and as their business grows, that means they’re going to have to hire more people, that’s what it’s all about, those dollars flowing through the economy.
After hearing from Kendall Ross, Director of the CED Business and Career Development Center, Bill Hanna, Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Hanna Oil and Gas Company, Settlage and UAFS Chancellor Terisa Riley, Governor Asa Hutchinson toured the new center.
Ross explained that the university wanted to keep the building’s original brick floor. So they epoxy-coated it in the first floor classroom. Upstairs, more classrooms, a conference room, the main hall, a full-service kitchen, and staff offices filled the renovated space. The wooden floor that once covered the second level is now the lobby office trim and the back panel of the university name with the DEC.
“It’s unique, but it’s so amazing, it not only combines support for small businesses, but it helps unify downtown,” Hutchinson said. “It makes education accessible to the general public who might not feel comfortable on a regular college campus, so it’s unique in many ways, but I just applaud UAFS, Riley and the leadership and partnership with downtown for starting this.”