New $25M Grant Will Finish I-49 Project

A federal grant announced today by five members of Congress will pay for the unfunded portion of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a project that’s been worked on by Missouri and Arkansas for more than 20 years.

The $25 million U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant, which was requested by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, will go to the Missouri Department of Transportation which has promised to complete work on a five-mile portion of a 19-mile section of Interstate 49 that swings west of Bella Vista.

The grant, coupled with funding provided by Missouri, provides all the funding needed to complete Interstate 49 in McDonald County, Mo. Arkansas already has the funding needed to complete two sections of the roadway in Benton County.

Led by Senator U.S. Senator Tom Cotton’s advocacy, members of Congress in Missouri and Arkansas played key roles in the pursuit of the funding and ensured that the U.S. Department of Transportation understood the importance of the project to people and companies in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as middle America.

The Northwest Arkansas Council prioritized the completion of the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a roadway that’s often referred to as the Bella Vista Bypass. Leaders in both states starting calling it the Missouri-Arkansas Connector to better convey the project’s location to a national audience.

“Interstate access heralds the continued economic growth of any area, which is why completing the Bella Vista Bypass is vital for Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri,” Cotton said. “Many businesses and future infrastructure projects depend on its finalization, and this funding will allow that project’s construction finally to move forward.”

Because the BUILD grant maximum to any project is $25 million, the Missouri Department of Transportation will provide the remainder of the funding for the portion of the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector in that state. That’s expected to be about $22 million.

Complimenting the federal grant would be the $22 million set aside by Missouri, $35.2 million for 2.5 miles of I-49 in Arkansas near the Arkansas-Missouri line, and $51.4 million in Arkansas for a new interchange where I-49 meets U.S. 71 in Bentonville. The $86.6 million in Arkansas money comes from a half-cent, voter-approved sales tax that will continue being collected through 2023.

The I-49 project’s importance to America’s Heartland is clear. The city of Bella Vista is the only location in the 270-mile stretch between Fort Smith, Arkansas and Kansas City, Missouri where traffic must leave I-49 to continue traveling north or south.

When completed, the connector will allow motorists to bypass Bella Vista, swinging west and south of the city on the new four-lane interstate. Motorists will be able to avoid nine traffic signals on U.S. 71, reducing travel times and improving their safety by accessing the less-congested connector.

Those who sent letters of support for the Missouri-Arkansas Connector project to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao included Cotton as well as Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Missouri Rep. Billy Long.

“Completion of the critical stretch of the I-49 Arkansas-Missouri Connector is 25 years in the making, and I’m thrilled we’re one step closer to getting it done,” Blunt said. “Completing this project will increase safety, improve the quality of life, and strengthen local economies in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. Missouri’s transportation networks are our greatest competitive advantage, and I appreciate the partnership of our Arkansas colleagues in moving this project forward.”

Said Boozman: “Securing these funds for this shovel-ready project has taken years of vigorous and persistent advocating from my team. Our hard work has finally resulted in funding for a project that will yield dividends when it comes to economic growth and quality of life in the region.”

Said Womack: “Today’s funding announcement is a game changer that will do more than just upgrade the I-49 corridor – it will transform and modernize our local transportation system to support Arkansas families and the growth of our state. This investment, which I have tirelessly advocated for, will increase travel safety, decrease congestion, create jobs, and enhance the economic vitality of our region.”

Other letters were sent by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Missouri Gov. Mike Parson; Walmart; Simmons Foods; J.B. Hunt Transport Services; Tyson Foods; the Arkansas Trucking Association; the Missouri Trucking Association; Mercy Hospital in Joplin, Mo.; Ducommun Inc. in Joplin; Hampshire Pet Products in Joplin; Jasper Products in Joplin; local chambers of commerce in Missouri and Arkansas; Missouri and Arkansas state legislators; and more than a dozen Missouri and Arkansas cities and counties.

Pictured at the top: A photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Transportation shows Arkansas Highway 549, which will become part of Interstate 49 when Missouri and Arkansas build three additional sections of the highway. A $25 million grant for the Missouri portion of the project was announced today.

University Receives $23.7M for Research, Economic Development Pursuits

A $23.7 million investment from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation into the University of Arkansas’ research and economic development infrastructure will strengthen the university’s research engine, driving innovation across disciplines, leading to the commercialization of new technologies and ultimately enhancing economic activity in the state. 

The gift was announced Friday at a Campaign Arkansas volunteer steering committee meeting and takes the campaign’s fundraising total beyond $1 billion. The goal of the campaign, which ends in June 2020, is to reach $1.25 billion.

“We are grateful to the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation for this investment in our faculty’s research and innovation,” said Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz. “We have outstanding faculty doing work that impacts the world.

“As we aim to strengthen our research engine, this investment in highly productive research faculty, research infrastructure, and signature research areas will augment our output. For a large research university to effectively inspire commercialization, it must provide a culture of innovation, a broad spectrum of partnerships across the region and around the country, and targeted financial investments.”

The infrastructure needed to build and support the research engine includes strategic initiatives of both the Office of Research and Innovation and the Office of Economic Development. This includes supporting preparation of proposals for research funding, grant management, entrepreneurial mentoring, faculty and external partners, and gap funding to commercialize technologies and creative works.

The Office of Economic Development streamlines campus initiatives targeting economic growth and social impact. The Office of Research and Innovation supports and advances the university’s research enterprise. 

“The major factors that most limit our growth are centered on building a critical mass of faculty in strategic research areas and enhancing the infrastructure necessary to maximize research productivity,” said Jim Coleman, provost and executive vice chancellor. “The quality of faculty and new faculty hires has been strong, including an unprecedented nine faculty who received National Science Foundation CAREER awards during the 2018 cycle. Shoring up gaps in our infrastructure is crucial to maximizing the research engine and the commercialization of intellectual property. With strong leadership and infrastructure in place, the conditions for supporting the quality and the volume of faculty research and intellectual property will grow exponentially.” 

This investment will support strategic, operational and programmatic initiatives in the areas of the Office of Research and Innovation and the Office of Economic Development over a five-year period. 

“Universities are powerful engines in driving regional and national economies,” said Jim Walton. “There is even more potential for our universities to accelerate economic growth and development.” 

In the Office of Research and Innovation, funds will be allocated to:

  • Strategic initiatives in research, scholarly and creative activities across the university, including operations and programs under the direction of the vice chancellor for research and innovation ($2 million)

  • Faculty hires in “signature research areas” across a range of disciplines throughout the university ($5 million)

  • Research and Sponsored Programs capacity ($1.59 million)

  • Innovation funds for faculty research with commercialization potential ($5 million)

In the Office of Economic Development, funds will be allocated to:

  • Strategic initiatives, operations andprograms under the direction of the vice chancellor for economic development ($2 million)

  • Expansion of industry partnerships ($1.67 million)

  • Technology Ventures capacity building and outreach ($3.6 million)

  • Patent fund ($400,000)

  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation programming ($460,000)

  • Gap funding ($2 million)

“The expression of support from the community, the significant statewide understanding of the power and potential of a research institution to impact positive change, and the incredible opportunity to grow the university’s research enterprise are among the qualities that attracted me to the U of A,” said Daniel Sui, who began as vice chancellor for research and innovation Oct. 1. “The university has concluded a process to identify the University of Arkansas’ research strengths, and this work will culminate in a plan for building upon these strengths to our advantage. That will be complete in the next couple of months. I am excited about this gift and its importance to enhancing our research mission.”

“This investment will help foster campus-wide collaboration, help translate new ideas into real-world applications and help Arkansas thrive as an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Stacy Leeds, vice chancellor for economic development.

Pictured at the top: A student researcher works in a bioengineering lab at the University of Arkansas.

XNA Hits 20th Year, Serves More than 21 Million Passengers

XNA Hits 20th Year, Serves More than 21 Million Passengers

Doubts ran deep when the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport opened its doors on Nov. 1, 1998, but no one today questions how much value the airport brings to the region.

The regional airport, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary today by giving away a three-day trip and other prizes to selected airport visitors, is recognized as one of the region’s most important infrastructure additions in more than 50 years.

Pinnacle Foods Finishes New Warehouse, Adds 30 Jobs in Fayetteville

Pinnacle Foods Finishes New Warehouse, Adds 30 Jobs in Fayetteville

A Fayetteville company on Tuesday celebrated the completion of a new frozen foods warehouse, enabling the the company to operate more efficiently in Northwest Arkansas.

Representatives of Pinnacle Foods Inc., a consumer packaged foods company with a rich history of conducting business in Fayetteville, was joined by representatives of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce for the grand opening of its 164,000-square-foot warehouse connected directly to its manufacturing building. The company is located near 15th Street and Razorback Road.