Fort Smith University to Open New Downtown Economic Development Space in January

FORT SMITH – Businesses and entrepreneurs in River Valley will soon be able to take advantage of programs designed to help them with a more convenient, centrally located facility.

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is nearing completion of construction of a new space for its Business and Professional Development Center and Family Business Center, as well as the Fort Smith Regional Office in the center Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center.

Kendall Ross, director of the Center for Business and Professional Development and Family Enterprise Center, estimated that the new space, in the Bakery District at 70 S. Seventh St., would be open to the public around Jan. 3. The three entities moving there are now hosted at the Flanders Business Center as part of the university’s College of Business and Industry, according to the university’s website.

Ross said the change of scenery will give the programs the opportunity to go to downtown Fort Smith and create a center that anyone can walk in, adding convenience to the services of these programs.

“It doesn’t matter if they’ve never started a business but want to, or if they’re a member of a Fortune 100 company that needs professional development or an upgrade,” Ross said. “It can all be located in one particular center and we can provide that solution to them.”

Ross also believes that some people would prefer not to go to the college campus to use the programs because they are intimidated by its size.

Bill Sabo, regional director of the Arkansas Small Business Development and Technology Center at the university, also called the accessibility and proximity to the community that this new location will provide “huge.” There are difficulties associated with parking and finding a building on a college campus as well as the intimidation factor, he said.

“It is, for some people, a very different place,” Sabo said.

In contrast, the Bakery District is at the heart of the community and very accessible, according to Sabo. The new space will also provide a consolidated area dedicated to the three entities that will be there and will have both space to accommodate large groups of people for seminars and training and technological capabilities to support specific functions, among other benefits.

“I see it as a very hopefully hectic and busy environment,” Sabo said.

The university’s Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center serves Crawford, Scott and Sebastian counties, according to information from the program’s main center in Little Rock. The program works with potential and current owners of all types of businesses with up to 500 employees to assist them in all aspects of starting, managing and operating a business. It provides free advice and resources, such as market research, as well as training and events.

The university was announced as the site for a new regional office of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center along with three other universities in February, according to a press release from Central States. The office opened in August after Sabo was chosen as regional director, according to the university.

The university’s Center for Business and Professional Development offers personalized training programs and consulting services, the university’s website says. It also offers a professional development program. The Family Enterprise Center offers educational programs and support for family businesses.

Steve Clark, CEO and founder of Propak in downtown Fort Smith and a member of the Fort Smith Central District Business Improvement Commission, said the city continues to benefit from momentum in the redevelopment of its downtown area. He believes that moving the three entities to one location in the Bakery District will have a positive impact on small businesses and entrepreneurs in the region by clearly identifying and establishing the resources available to them.

“So many times, speaking from personal experience, when you’re just starting out it’s hard to know exactly where to find resources, it’s hard to know what may be available to you,” Clark said.

Bill Hanna, president of Hanna Oil and Gas, said he welcomes the presence of these three programs in the downtown area. He has been a member of the Family Enterprise Center since its inception.

KMW Properties, a separate Fort Smith-based company that is a subset of Hanna Oil and Gas, owns the Bakery District, Hanna said.

Ross said the concept for the Bakery District project was started in late 2019 by Terisa Riley, chancellor of the university. The university began to develop the Bakery District space in November 2020. Construction began in January.

The project includes building a classroom that can accommodate 45 people and another that can accommodate 75 people on the first floor, according to Ross. Classrooms are connected and a movable wall separating them can be opened to accommodate seminars and larger events.

The upstairs portion of the space will have offices for each of the three entities with the possibility of expansion, Ross said. It will also feature two collaboration spaces that can be used for various purposes and can accommodate 24 people each, as well as an executive conference room that can accommodate 24 people.

“So we really designed it to meet the needs of a lot of different levels and sizes,” Ross said.

The Bakery District’s space is approximately 10,000 square feet, Ross said.

Kendall Ross, director of the Center for Business and Professional Development and Family Enterprise Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, talks about one of the collaboration areas on the second floor of the Bakery District academic space in the downtown Fort Smith town on Monday. This space will serve as the new location for the university’s Center for Business and Professional Development and Family Enterprise Center, as well as the Fort Smith regional office of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Saccente)

Bakery area

System administrators at the University of Arkansas approved a request from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to lease and upgrade approximately 10,000 square feet of space in the Bakery District on December 15. Work on the space is expected to cost $ 833,293, which will be split evenly between the university and KMW Properties. The university lease on the property will begin on December 1 or January 1 and will include the following annual rates:

$ 165,143 for years 1 to 5

$ 181,657 for years 6 to 10

$ 199,822 for years 11-15

$ 226,399 for years 16-20

Source: Rachel Putman, Associate Director of UAFS for Strategic Communication