Fayetteville gets first look at eco­nomic plan

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at sry­burn@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @sta­cyry­burn.

FAYETTEVILLE — The first leg of the city’s new eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plan has brought in busi­ness, opened com­mu­ni­ca­tion with long­time es­tab­lish­ments and opened a path of po­ten­tial, ac­cord­ing to the plan’s ex­ecu­tors.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives with the Cham­ber of Com­merce and Startup Junkie Con­sult­ing on Tues­day gave City Coun­cil mem­bers a pre­sen­ta­tion on progress made be­tween Oc­to­ber and March to­ward eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals. The coun­cil adopted the Fayetteville First plan last sum­mer. The plan started with a two-year, $300,000 con­tract with Startup Junkie and a $360,000 con­tract with the cham­ber, also over two years.

Startup Junkie took on get­ting new busi­nesses off

the ground and mak­ing the city live up to the moniker “Startup City of the South.” The cham­ber fo­cused on re­tail, ex­pan­sion and keep­ing the city’s well- es­tab­lished busi­nesses around.

Chung Tan, di­rec­tor of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment with the cham­ber, said more than half of the 56 busi­nesses the cham­ber has in­ter­viewed so far this year re­ported ex­pan­sion in some way. The con­tract spec­i­fies the cham­ber will sit down oneon-one with 100 busi­nesses in a year.

The ben­e­fit is not only learn­ing what busi­nesses like about the city, but what needs im­prove­ment, Tan said. Re­spon­dents listed an un­re­al­is­tic tree or­di­nance, in­con­sis­tency with per­mit­ting and li­cens­ing and high hous­ing costs as chal­lenges.

The city also needs more of­fice and re­tail space, Tan said.

“This re­gion has been called hot, very hot,” she said. “We’re just run­ning out of space.”

Jeff Amer­ine, founder of Startup Junkie, show­cased a num­ber of events and pro­grams the firm has hosted, in­clud­ing Mi­nor­ity Plug, NWA Ven­ture MashUp and ScaleUp Demo Days. More than 3,500 at­ten­dees ex­changed ideas all over the city.

“The rea­son for pulling these things to­gether is not just to have a party,” he said. “It’s be­cause ev­ery time, the cre­ative col­li­sions that oc­cur lead to other busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

A ma­jor ini­tia­tive will bring Spec­trum Liv­ing So­lu­tions to an as-yet un­de­ter­mined site in the city. The con­cept will put res­i­dents with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, mostly on the autism spec­trum, with founders of “mi­crobusi­nesses.” The public-pri­vate part­ner­ship could cre­ate more than 600 jobs.

Devin How­land, the city’s eco­nomic vi­tal­ity di­rec­tor, said the pro­gram would serve a unique role for an of­ten over­looked pop­u­la­tion.

“I think this is some­thing where if it’s go­ing to be some­where, Fayetteville is the best place,” he said. “We are a di­verse com­mu­nity. We’re in­clu­sive. And I think this is the best place to have that kind of an out­reach ef­fort.”

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