Arkansas to Knock Out BV Bypass by 2022

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and community leaders celebrated the start of construction on new sections of the Bella Vista Bypass early today, holding a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the occasion.

Today’s celebration at a site near the Arkansas-Missouri state line centered on two projects in Arkansas, with Missouri working to finish a five-mile section of the highway as well.

Spending on the three projects will approach $150 million between now and when all work is complete in 2022.

State Rep. Dan Douglas (center) talks with Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, after a groundbreaking ceremony today to celebrate the start of construction on new sections of the Bella Vista Bypass. Gavin Bose, Douglas’s 7-year-old grandson, did his part to keep the highway project on schedule.

State Rep. Dan Douglas (center) talks with Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, after a groundbreaking ceremony today to celebrate the start of construction on new sections of the Bella Vista Bypass. Gavin Bose, Douglas’s 7-year-old grandson, did his part to keep the highway project on schedule.

The four-lane divided highway will be designated as a new 19-mile section of I-49. It should be a welcome improvement for truckers and other motorists often slowed by a series of traffic signals that create a stop-and-go driving slog through Bella Vista.

Those who attended today’s event included State Sen. Lance Eads, State Rep. Dan Douglas, State Rep. Gayla Hendren McKenzie, State Rep. Jana Della Rosa, State Highway Commissioner Philip Taldo, Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie, Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman, Gravette Mayor Kurt Maddox, Prairie Grove Mayor Sonny Hudson and Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree. Representatives from Missouri also joined, including Bill Lant, presiding member of the McDonald County Commission as well as Laurel McKean and Andy Mueller, assistant district engineers at the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The Bella Vista Bypass is one of three big-ticket highway projects made possible by the passage of a half-cent sales tax in 2012. The statewide tax proposal received a majority of voters’ support in 70 of the 75 counties.

In addition to the bypass, the sales tax provided support for Northwest Arkansas projects that include widening large sections of I-49 to six lanes between Bentonville and Fayetteville, and building a four-lane divided section of Arkansas 612 toward Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

The two sections in the Arkansas portion of the bypass include a two-mile piece near the Arkansas-Missouri line that will cost $35.5 million and take about a year to complete.

The more expensive project will be a $66.6 million highway interchange that will connect the new bypass with U.S. 71 and I-49 in northern Bentonville. That project will take more than two years to complete.

Arkansas entities and members of the state’s congressional delegation played major roles in getting Bella Vista Bypass work to advance in Missouri.

With strong support from the Northwest Arkansas Council and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission submitted an application and received a $25 million federal grant in December 2018 to pay for the Missouri portion of the bypass — referring to as the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector.

The cost for the entire Missouri site is expected to be about $48 million. ARDOT Director Scott Bennett has worked with Missouri leaders to ensure the three projects are completed on essentially the same timeline.

Arkansas wants to take on big-ticket projects like the Bella Vista Bypass in the future, but this is no existing funding source unless approved by voters.

A proposal on the November 2020 ballot to extend the half-cent sales tax that expires in 2023 and provide a funding mechanism for some of the planned projects.

Studies to be Shared at Annual Event on Nov. 5

Two important research reports about Northwest Arkansas will be shared Nov. 5 at an annual event put on in partnership by the University of Arkansas and the Northwest Arkansas Council.

The Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, in collaboration with the Council, will share the findings in the eighth yearly State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report.

Greg Pogue

Greg Pogue

The other report, completed by researcher Greg Pogue of the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas, focuses on Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurship.

The luncheon where both reports will be shared starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Northwest Arkansas Board of Realtors Event Center, 314 N. Goad Springs Road in Lowell. Attendees may arrive at 10:45 a.m. for networking.

Reservations for the luncheon may be made online or by calling 479-575-4151.

Pogue is the deputy executive director and senior research scientist at the the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas. The institute is a “think-and-do tank” that explores factors that promote economic development and creates programs to promote good business practices around the world.

Pogue and his team at the IC2 Institute spent more than a year studying entrepreneurship in Northwest Arkansas. Pogue will share his final report, called “Innovate Again, Innovate Here,” at the luncheon. His Northwest Arkansas research and assessment was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

The State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report was first published in 2011. University of Arkansas economist Mervin Jebaraj, director of the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research, will share the findings.

Jebaraj will outline the economic highlights in the State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report as well as economic data and statistics from the Center for Business and Economic Research’s Quarterly Business Analysis. The report is widely viewed as one of the best measures of performances compared to peer regions such as Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh, North Carolina; Provo, Utah; Des Moines, Iowa; and Austin, Texas. The report published in 2018 is available on the business and economic research center’s website.

The cost for the program and luncheon is $45. Preregistration is required, and the deadline is Friday, Nov. 1.

Pictured at the top: Mervin Jebaraj, the director of the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research, talked at the State of the Northwest Arkansas Region Report luncheon in 2018 about how the region compares to places such as Des Moines, Madison and Durham-Chapel Hill. Those metropolitan areas are used as economic benchmarks for Northwest Arkansas.

U of Arkansas Breaks its Record for Invention Disclosures

Faculty, staff, and students at the University of Arkansas disclosed a record number of invention disclosures for the fiscal year that ended in June.

The 47 invention disclosures filed with the university’s Technology Ventures office showed a 52 percent increase in the number of inventions disclosed compared to the previous fiscal year. Technology Ventures also filed a total of 54 patent applications in fiscal year 2019, up 23 percent compared to fiscal year 2018.

The university announced the invention disclosures in a press release today.

“Receiving so many high-quality invention disclosures, a more than 50 percent increase from last year, is a testament to the type of faculty, staff and students we have on campus and the innovative research they are doing,” said David Hinton, associate director of Technology Ventures.

Between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, the number of invention disclosures, patents filed, patents issued and number of license agreements saw significant growth both over the previous year and Technology Ventures’ historical average.

“The University of Arkansas is pleased to support faculty and staff by providing the resources they need to make groundbreaking discoveries and launch those discoveries into the market where they can make a real impact,” said Stacy Leeds, vice chancellor for economic development. “We are proud of our team in Technology Ventures and the exceptional resources they provide U of A faculty, staff and students.”

Technology Ventures, a collaboration between the Office of Economic Development and the Office of Research and Innovation, commercializes and manages the intellectual property portfolio for the University of Arkansas. Technology Ventures actively assists faculty, staff and students in realizing the commercial potential of their scientific discoveries on campus.

“I think we have had such a large increase in the activity of our inventors because there is a shifting culture in the direction of entrepreneurship and innovation on campus and within the local community; people are more engaged than ever. It is an exciting time to be in Northwest Arkansas,” Hinton said.

Technology Ventures is looking forward to maintaining this momentum moving into fiscal year 2020. Thanks to the support of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, the University of Arkansas is able to strategically invest through three university funds in research on campus that has the high potential for commercialization.

The Chancellor’s Commercialization Fund is a $1 million annual investment that can be used to reduce the inherent risk of inventions that offer strong commercialization potential. The Chancellor’s Gap Fund leverages the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program to fund entrepreneurial teams of faculty, staff and students who have completed customer discovery on the national level. In addition, the new $1 million Chancellor’s Fund for Humanities and Performing Arts will foster creativity, enrich collaboration and lead to intellectual property development.

Pictured at the top: Jingyi Chen, a associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Arkansas, stands in one of her laboratories. She’s working with partners to develop a way to turn ethanol into electrical energy.

State Funds Cover Training for 200 Apprenticeships in NWA

The Northwest Arkansas Council and the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (ACDS) are partners in a project that creates 200 apprenticeships, a program that includes classroom education and on-the-job training for a minimum of one year. The program includes training in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics as individuals start careers with area companies.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Startup Junkie and RevUnit for today’s announcements related to attracting and retaining tech talent in Northwest Arkansas.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Startup Junkie and RevUnit for today’s announcements related to attracting and retaining tech talent in Northwest Arkansas.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and representatives of more than 30 Northwest Arkansas companies were present for today’s announcement of the new apprenticeship program at the Council’s office in Springdale.

The announcement of the Northwest Arkansas apprenticeship program coincided with an announcement by Startup Junkie and RevUnit that they will launch a second Fuel accelerator program in 2020 to support growth-stage artificial intelligence and machine learning startups.

It was a huge day for tech in Northwest Arkansas in support of Governor Hutchinson’s goal of transitioning Arkansas into a global technology center where rising companies could invest in the state’s economy.

“After our successful apprenticeship accelerator in Little Rock, we’re pleased to help bring the apprenticeship message to employers in Northwest Arkansas,” said Bill Yoder, the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences executive director. “We at ACDS look forward to working with the Northwest Arkansas Council to launch the first set of information technology apprenticeship programs in the fourth quarter of this year.”

Led by Startup Junkie and RevUnit, the Fuel program will return in 2020, bringing a cohort of growth-stage companies with expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning to Northwest Arkansas for a 12-week, enterprise-ready accelerator.

“The second cohort of Fuel will be industry agnostic, focusing on innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning that our key enterprise partners can leverage among various aspects of their business model,” said Taylor Hasley, Fuel program director at Startup Junkie. “I am excited about recruiting world-class talent to Northwest Arkansas, guiding the cohort to meaningful and lasting relationships with our regional enterprises, and ultimately, to retain that talent and create new jobs in our community.”

Fuel launched in 2018 with eight startups joining a 16-week program. The program helped its first cohort nurture relationships with Fortune 500 companies through feedback sessions, training, pilots and demos. Some of the eight companies put down roots in Northwest Arkansas to grow their businesses.

“We saw startups grow in terms of team size, investment, and their business activity in the Northwest Arkansas region,” said Haley Allgood, Startup Junkie executive director.

The apprenticeship program announced by the Council and ACDS will target high school and university students who graduate in the spring and adults who are making career changes to work in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics. ACDS and Arkansas Department of Commerce grants will pay for the training.

People who are interested in becoming apprentices in those three fields will be able to submit applications through the Northwest Arkansas Council’s new careers-focused website. The application will be on the website in October.

Joe Rollins, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s workforce development director, will lead the shared effort between state agencies, regional employers and education providers. He will continue to recruit employers to participate in the program, and there’s already strong interest. As apprentice applications are received, participating employers will review the submitted applications on the Careers NWA website. The employers will select the apprentices they want to hire.

This model represents shared action between education programs, employers and state agencies to create greater awareness of career opportunities in Northwest Arkansas. The program will strengthen the region’s ability to retain talent in key growth areas, Rollins said.

The apprenticeship accelerator provides the employers and apprentices with the shared benefit of cost-support of training, and it bridges the experience gap that many jobseekers encounter while trying to gain employment.

The program allows Northwest Arkansas employers to hire entry-level talent who can build a career based on the opportunity, and the employees can quickly become an asset to the Northwest Arkansas workforce and economy.

Being hired will create the opportunity to be involved in six-week training programs of industry-created and approved curriculum, Rollins said. The University of Arkansas Global Campus and NorthWest Arkansas Community College will be involved in the training programs.

The employers who attended today’s press conference participated in an apprenticeship accelerator workshop immediately afterwards.

The Fuel program is sponsored by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, RevUnit and Startup Junkie to foster more activity and innovation around the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning in Northwest Arkansas.

Applications are now open, and interviews begin later this year. Finalists for the second Fuel accelerator will be announced in January 2020.

Pictured at the top: Joe Rollins, the workforce development director for the Northwest Arkansas Council, talks with some of the business and education leaders who were interested in knowing more about 200 apprenticeships in Northwest Arkansas. The funding for the training is being provided by the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences and the Arkansas Department of Commerce.

Startup Crawl Brings Together Fans of Entrepreneurs, Craft Beer and Great Music

Startup Crawl 2019 is just three weeks away and there’s an aggressive goal of attracting at least 2,000 people to the event this year.

Modeled after a startup crawl that’s part of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, the 2019 event in Northwest Arkansas takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13 on the Fayetteville Square.

Proceeds from the event will support entrepreneurship education by Startup Junkie Foundation in Northwest Arkansas.

It’s a one-night celebration of Northwest Arkansas’ amazing startup community, matching the region’s craft beer producers with startups across the region.

 “It’s the biggest startup party in Arkansas,” said Caleb Talley, director of events for Startup Junkie. “There are so many incredible young companies and innovate thinkers right here in our own back yard. Startup Crawl gives everyone the opportunity to meet these awesome people, to get a glimpse inside their world in as fun an atmosphere as any.” 

This year’s stops include Startup Junkie, Zenworks, SharpHue, the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, Metova, Lineus Medical, AXIS Lounge, the NWA Fab Lab, Big Box Karaoke, Likewise, the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center and Newmark MTP at 112 Center. 

In addition to the 12 stops, the Startup Crawl will feature a mega-location at the Pryor Center, 1 E. Center St., where dozens of startups will be exhibiting and interacting with everyone in attendance.

The event’s sponsors include Cox, the Walton Family Foundation, the City of Fayetteville, B-Unlimited, Hall Estill, Arkansas Money & Politics, leisurlist, Cox Media and Startup Junkie.

There’s more information about Startup Crawl 2019 and how to purchase the $15 tickets on the Startup Junkie website.

Top-Ranked Bentonville Schools Lead the Way in Arkansas, Publication Says

Four large Northwest Arkansas school districts are among the Top 25 in the state, according to a new ranking shared by Niche.com.

The top-ranked Bentonville School District led the way in Arkansas, sitting atop the 2020 Best School Districts rankings. The rankings are based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, paired with reviews from students and parents, as well as test scores and graduation rates.  

The Fayetteville School District earned the No. 3 spot, and Springdale was 19th statewide. The Rogers School District came in at No. 22.

All four Northwest Arkansas districts received an “A” rating, while Bentonville was given the highest mark with an “A+.”

"We often say this is where excellence lives and we mean that,” Bentonville Schools Superintendent Debbie Jones said. “Our teachers enjoy the freedom to introduce the latest innovative thoughts into their lesson plans so students can learn in an environment which surpasses the traditional classroom. That academic experience, combined with the endless opportunity, is something few others can match. We're proud of the world-class education we offer." 

Nelson Peacock, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s president and CEO, said the rankings represent another reason the region is a magnet for top talent. 

“Northwest Arkansas ranks as a Top 5 Best Place to Live in the nation because of the great economy and high quality of life,” Peacock said. “The plentiful, high quality education options available here contribute to both and is a key driver in attracting and retaining a quality workforce. Bentonville – and other regional schools – presence on the Niche list is further confirmation of the quality of our local schools.”

Small Northwest Arkansas schools made the Top 25, too. The Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy family of schools ranked fourth overall. Prairie Grove was No. 13, and the Farmington schools were No. 24 on the list.

According to Niche.com, the rankings are determined by weighing several categories to form an overall ranking. The greatest weight is assigned to academic performance, which is based on state assessment proficiency, standardized test scores and surveys filled out by students and parents regarding academics. 

Other factors include teacher performance, culture and diversity, and parent/student surveys about the overall experience.