Simmons Foods Affiliate Finishes Facility, Creates 78 Jobs

Simmons Feed Ingredients, an affiliate of Simmons Foods Inc., held a July 31 ribbon-cutting ceremony for its 72,000-square-foot ingredient facility in Siloam Springs.

The company has invested an estimated $30 million in the facility since 2015 where it will produce fresh and frozen meat ingredients for pet food manufacturers. The company expects the new facility’s operations will create 78 jobs.

“This wet ingredient facility is a model for the future of high-quality ingredient production for pet food manufacturers,” said Todd Simmons, CEO at Simmons Foods and a member of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “This new facility enables our team here to safely and reliably produce the highest quality, customizable ingredients for Simmons Feed Ingredients’ customers.”

Simmons Foods Inc. and its affiliates are producers of poultry, pet food and ingredient products. They are one of the state’s largest private companies with more than 1,000 people in its Siloam Springs operations. Simmons Feed Ingredients, Inc. combines proprietary processes and its extensive experience in food production to develop innovative, top-quality ingredients for pet food manufacturers. 

Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, joined the Simmons leadership and local officials at the July 31 event.

“Simmons Foods has a long history of investing in Arkansas,” Preston said. “Through the establishment of this new facility, the company is making another significant commitment to doing business in the state. Arkansas has a large presence in food processing and this expansion is a testament to our strength in this sector.” 

Founded in 1949, Simmons Foods has been known for its business foresight, innovation, and loyalty to its customers and community. Some customer relationships go back almost 50 years. In the late 1990s, the company began to concentrate on business-to-business customers.

Lineus, Hello Cocoa Among Fast Rising Startups in Northwest Arkansas

The Northwest Arkansas startup scene evolves every day, but the region itself has already changed from a place where early-stage startups are viewed as a shiny new object to a place where they are part of the established culture.

Community support and entrepreneurs willing to share their own ideas helped companies such as Field Agent, Riff Raff, Movista, James + James, RevUnit, Collective Bias, Menguin, Fayettechill and Lauren James take shape. The companies used Northwest Arkansas as the springboard to advance from small beginnings to businesses that now employ 10 to more than 100 people in the region.

So many factors will determine which companies are the next ones to join that larger group, but we’ve identified a few with plans to make significant moves in the coming months that should bode well for the future.

Consider these possibilities:

  • Hello Cocoa. The company started in 2014 by Preston Stewart and Lauren Blanco selects cocoa beans from around the world to make high-quality chocolate in Fayetteville. The company will relocate to the Eighth Street Market in Bentonville later this year. “We plan to create a go-to chocolate/dessert experience in Northwest Arkansas over the next couple of years,” Blanco said. The company’s chocolate products are available at Whole Foods, Ozark Natural Foods and coffee shops across Northwest Arkansas, but the larger plan includes national and international distribution.
  • 3E Software Inc. The Springdale company with 12 employees expects to double its staff within 18 months. It sells Teslar, software that helps banks and credit unions with the complete lifecycle of a loan or deposit account. A handful of Northwest Arkansas banks are among its customers, said company founder and Fayetteville native Joe Ehrhardt.
  • Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc. With nine full- and part-time employees, the company manufacturers electronic circuits and systems that operate effectively at extremely low and extremely high temperatures. It’s also working to develop products capable of advanced ultra-violet detection. It could employ 20 to 30 people in five to 10 years, company founder Matt Francis said.
  • Black Apple Crossing. Located in downtown Springdale, the cidery founded in 2014 has seven full- and part-time employees. It provides its product to 60 bars and restaurants in Northwest Arkansas. There’s strong interest in canning the cider, meaning it would be available at liquor stores and other retail outlets.
  • Lineus Medical. The Fayetteville company has four employees now, but could grow to 30 in five to 10 years, said Spencer Jones, who started the company in 2015. It makes medical devices, namely infusion disposables such as its flagship product SafeBreak Vascular.
  • Cave Cloth. Wilson and Beth Allison started the company in 2012, designing and printing eco-friendly T-shirts in a Fayetteville industrial space. With one part-time employee now, Wilson Allison expects to have 15 to 20 workers in five years.
  • Bike Rack Brewing. You didn’t think this list would skip all the region’s craft beer producers, did you? The company has 20 employees and two Bentonville locations, selling kegs and cans statewide. Its revenue should grow to near $4 million within five years, company CEO Jeff Charlson said.

"All of these organizations are high-potential ventures, creating not just jobs that our community loves and needs, but they are creating livelihoods for our residents, while bringing products, services, and solutions to market that our community and country not only loves and wants, but needs," said Brett Amerine, chief operating officer at Startup Junkie, a Fayetteville company that assists companies during their startup phase. "Whether it's that local beer, food, or that electronics solution that could help NASA take us to Mars, you can thank these entrepreneurs."


University Chancellor to Lead Northwest Arkansas Council

The University of Arkansas chancellor takes over as the Northwest Arkansas Council’s presiding co-chair for the next year.

The Council announced the additional role being taken on by Joseph E. Steinmetz after the nonprofit organization’s annual meeting today in Bentonville. Steinmetz became a member of the Council’s Executive Committee shortly after becoming chancellor in early 2016.

Donnie Smith, the Northwest Arkansas Council's presiding co-chair for the past year, looks on as Joseph E. Steinmetz talks about what he hopes to accomplish as the organization's presiding co-chair for the next year.

Donnie Smith, the Northwest Arkansas Council's presiding co-chair for the past year, looks on as Joseph E. Steinmetz talks about what he hopes to accomplish as the organization's presiding co-chair for the next year.

“I’m looking forward to my term as presiding co-chair of the Northwest Arkansas Council,” Steinmetz said. “Higher education has a role in the vibrancy and vitality of a region. In addition to providing education, research and outreach – colleges and universities also contribute to the cultural amenities, intellectual capital, talent and workforce development that are great for business and great for life. My plan is to encourage ways in which the community can collaborate with higher education for mutual benefit.

“All the ingredients for success are right here in Northwest Arkansas and the opportunity to work alongside such impassioned leaders across industry sectors is invigorating.”

The Council last month announced the hiring of Nelson Peacock as the organization's president and CEO. He begins work later this month.

Steinmetz is the third University of Arkansas chancellor to lead the Council, and he takes over for former Tyson Foods President and CEO Donnie Smith as presiding co-chair. The chancellors who led the Council in previous years were John A. White and David Gearhart.

Alice Walton led the Council, which was founded in 1990, in its formative years. U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, who retired as a member of Congress in 1993, took over the chairman’s role that same year. He served until 2006.

The Council shifted to the presiding co-chair system that same year, inviting Northwest Arkansas leaders to take turns heading the organization in one-year stints. Previous presiding co-chairs were John Tyson, Lee Scott, Kirk Thompson, Mark Simmons, Rosalind Brewer, Jim Walton, White and Gearhart.


Northwest Arkansas Arts Bring $131M in Economic Activity, Study Finds

Northwest Arkansas' nonprofit arts and culture industry is generating more than $130 million in economic activity, a study by a national arts-focused organization shows.

Roger Cohen with Americans for the Arts made the results of its study public today at the World Trade Center in Rogers, relying on 2015 data provided by nonprofit arts venues, theaters and museums from across Benton and Washington counties. The $131.2 million economic impact in 2015 was markedly higher than the $45.5 million in impact reported five years earlier.

The arts community of Northwest Arkansas has blossomed since the study of 2010 data was made public in 2012. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville and the Walmart AMP in Rogers were established after the earlier study, and the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville completed a massive renovation. Those factored into the incredible increase in economic activity.

Arts venues such as Rogers Historical Museum, Arkansas Air and Military Museum, Arts Center of the Ozarks, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks and Shiloh Museum of Ozark History are recognized for increasing quality of life in Northwest Arkansas, but they also help attract talent to Northwest Arkansas. People who relocate from big cities expect to find museums, music venues, theatres and other arts-focused venues, and the arts community meets that expectation.

The economic activity in 2015 included $67.5 million in spending by arts and culture organizations and an additional $63.7 million in event-related spending by their audiences. The activity supported 4,647 jobs and generated $14 million in government revenue.

The Arts & Economic Prosperity Study is conducted nationally every five years. The study, which was completed for the fifth time using the 2015 data, documents the economic contributions of the nonprofit arts industry across the country as well as in 341 study regions, representing 50 states and the District of Columbia. Northwest Arkansas was the only Arkansas region included in the report.

“Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 quantifies the economic benefits of arts and culture organizations within a community,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy for the American for the Arts. “This study changes the conversation about the arts from that of a ‘charity’ to one about an ‘industry’ that provides both cultural and economic benefits to the community.”

Cohen said the nonprofit arts community provides jobs far beyond their own operations because of the broad number of other businesses they indirectly support. Their audiences spent money on such things as going out to dinner before a show, to park at a garage near a venue, and on clothes to be certain they look sharp for a night on the town, he said.

Walton Arts Center staff compiled data for the study from 23 eligible nonprofit arts and cultural organizations located in Northwest Arkansas. Each partner provided detailed budget information for Fiscal Year 2015, including labor, payments to local and nonlocal artists, operations, administration, programming, facilities and capital expenditures/asset acquisition. Patrons also were surveyed about spending around their attendance to arts events.

The key Northwest Arkansas findings include:

  • Nearly 1.8 million people attended arts and culture events in Northwest Arkansas. Event-related spending by these attendees totaled $63.7 million, excluding the cost of admission, or roughly $35.89 per person. That’s slightly higher than the national average of $31.47 per person and almost double the $19.54 per person spending in the Northwest Arkansas region documented by Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, covering Fiscal Year 2010.
  • 25 percent of audience members traveled from outside of the county in which the event took place. Their event-related spending on average was more per person than local attendees ($71.20 vs. $23.85).
  • 86  percent of nonlocal attendees indicated that the primary purpose of their visit was “specifically to attend this arts or cultural event.”
  • 42 percent of local attendees who were surveyed said they would have traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural event, if the arts event they wanted to attend was not taking place.


TheatreSquared Seeks $13 Million to Finish Our Next Stage Campaign

A ceremony was held Friday to break ground on Northwest Arkansas' first dedicated, permanent home for its professional theatre company.

The event, held in the late afternoon in Fayetteville, kicked off the public launch of the Our Next Stage Campaign. The $34 million campaign is an effort to fully fund construction and establish an artistic, operating and education reserve for the theatre. TheatreSquared on Friday announced its raised about $21 million so far.

Karen Minkel of the Walton Family Foundation was among those who talked at Friday's groundbreaking ceremony about TheatreSquared, the region's only professional theatre company.

Karen Minkel of the Walton Family Foundation was among those who talked at Friday's groundbreaking ceremony about TheatreSquared, the region's only professional theatre company.

Construction on the region’s 50,000 square-foot, two-venue facility, designed by international design award recipients Marvel Architects and Charcoalblue, will begin immediately and continue through 2019. The new theatre will be located at 477 W. Spring St.

The public phase of the Our Next Stage Campaign will be led by a committee of volunteer civic leaders, including Ted Belden, Leslie Belden, Kirk Thompson, Brett Burch, Joel Carver, Lynn Carver, Carolyn Cole, Nick Cole, Denise Garner, Hershey Garner, Susan Hall, Orville Hall, Greg Lee, Hannah Lee, Scott Price, Shizuko Price, Margaret Rutherford, Dick Rutherford, Judy Schwab, Bill Schwab, Todd Simmons, Shelley Simmons, Tod Yeslow, Jackie Telfair and Jenifer Tucker.

TheatreSquared’s home will unite two state-of-the-art theatres, the company’s first dedicated rehearsal space, staff offices, education and community space, on-site design and building workshops, eight dedicated guest artist apartments and outdoor public spaces at three levels. There will also be an open-all-day café/bar.

Plans for Northwest Arkansas’ permanent regional theatre began to take form in 2015, when a special community task force recommended launching an exploratory process toward building a new home for TheatreSquared. TheatreSquared that fall won an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and was selected as an inaugural participant in the Walton Family Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program. The program provides financial support to develop space for public purposes, with funds earmarked for all phases of design work. 

In 2016, the Fayetteville City Council voted to approve a 100-year lease on a downtown site directly across from the theatre's current venue at Walton Arts Center's Nadine Baum Studios. The site is steps from Dickson Street and not far from  the Fayetteville Public Library, the downtown Square, and the University of Arkansas campus.

In 2017, the Fayetteville City Council responded to a $12.5 million commitment from the Walton Family Foundation with a $3.1 million commitment toward the project, followed by a $3 million commitment from the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission.

TheatreSquared created a detailed website with design images and the TheatreSquared backstory.

Council Hires Nelson Peacock as President and CEO

Arkansas native Nelson Peacock will lead one of Northwest Arkansas’ leading nonprofit organizations.

Peacock takes over as the Northwest Arkansas Council’s president and CEO, starting in July. Nick Hobbs and other members of the Council’s search committee announced his hiring at a press conference today.

Nick Hobbs, the chairman of a Northwest Arkansas Council search committee, announces the hiring of Nelson Peacock as the Council's new president and CEO. The announcement was made at a news conference today.

Nick Hobbs, the chairman of a Northwest Arkansas Council search committee, announces the hiring of Nelson Peacock as the Council's new president and CEO. The announcement was made at a news conference today.

The Council, which was established in 1990, is recognized for its leadership in advancing job opportunities, infrastructure investment and quality of life in the state and region.

Peacock grew up in Arkansas and earned degrees at the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas School of Law. He brings a track record of political, government relations and management experience to the Council.  Peacock will be moving from California where he serves as a senior vice president for the University of California Office of the President.

“We undertook a nationwide search for our new president and CEO, and Nelson stands out for the breadth of experience he brings to the job, and because of his understanding of the state,” said Hobbs, the head of the search committee. “Nelson has the perfect combination of background, skills and vision to lead the Council. We are excited that he will be returning home to put his great experience to work in Northwest Arkansas.”

“I am looking forward to building on the region’s excellent track record of success,” Peacock said. “I am honored to be able to join with regional leaders and partners as we continue to work together to improve quality of life and job opportunities for Arkansans across the region.”

Peacock will soon leave his position as senior vice president government relations at the University of California Office of the President.  In the role, he oversees all aspects of state and federal governmental relations for the $32.5 billion University of California system, which includes 10 UC campuses, five academic medical centers and three national laboratories. 

Prior to this, Peacock was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the Office of Legislative Affairs for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In this role, he was responsible for all aspects of the department’s interactions with Congress on issues related to counter terrorism, immigration, cyber security and natural disasters. Peacock oversaw the congressional teams of seven operational agencies of DHS, including the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Peacock also served as senior counsel to Senator Joe Biden on the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate where he advised the future Vice President on homeland security, crime and intellectual property issues.

Peacock is just the third president and CEO hired to lead the 27-year-old Northwest Arkansas Council. The first was Uvalde Lindsey, currently a state senator who led the Council from 1990-2005. Peacock replaces Mike Malone, who was the Council’s president and CEO from 2006-2016. Malone resigned to become Northwest Arkansas coordinator for Runway Group, LLC in Bentonville.

Peacock has a Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas and Masters of Arts from the George Washington University School of Law.

Peacock, his wife Susan and their two young daughters will move to Northwest Arkansas in July.