The NorthWest Arkansas Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management (CAHM) program will undergo a transformative expansion, made possible by three related grants from the Walton Family Foundation totaling more than $15 million.
The investments, which were announced by the college earlier today, will enable the community college to become a world-class training provider of culinary education better equipped to respond to the rapidly growing needs of tourism-related industries in the region.
“I’m excited about NWACC’s commitment to culinary education,” said Matthew McClure, executive chef of The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville. “The expanded curriculum will enhance tangible skills that will aid our fast-growing culinary scene in Northwest Arkansas.”
The grants will provide for new facilities for the college, enhanced programming, professional development, rebranding for a fresh program identity, state-of-the-art equipment, as well as the onboarding of new leadership and additional faculty to accommodate the growth.
NWACC has hired Glenn R. Mack as the college’s first executive director of culinary arts, who will oversee the program and its expansion. Mack has an impressive record as a culinary leader, including posts as market president for Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and most recently as academic dean with At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy in Singapore. He began his duties with the college on June 1.
Mack said the “enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit, blossoming food scene and the prospects for community engagement in the region” are key factors that will help grow the culinary program. A native Arkansan, Mack trained and worked in food service in China, Italy, Russia, Uzbekistan and the United States. Mack currently serves as president-elect of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and regularly writes and presents on culinary culture and history.
The proposed academic shift for the CAHM program will reposition the college’s existing offerings to focus on farm, agriculture and nurturing the next generation of food entrepreneurs. As part of this changing ethos, the college is developing new curricular pathways for butchery and charcuterie, food preservation, seasonal cooking, and artisanal foods. Wines, spirits and mixology programming are proposed to enhance the school’s offerings. Corresponding community education courses will connect industry professionals, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts with a personal interest in food with these enriching experiences, in part through the existing Tyson Culinary Learning Center on the college’s main campus.
CAHM is building a new identity that will become the hallmark of the fresh vision, voice and ethos of the program. A new name and visual presence is being strategized in collaboration with BLKBOXLabs, a diversely skilled creative agency based in Fayetteville.
The visioning for this venture began in fall 2013 when NWACC engaged Karp Resources, a New York-based national food and agriculture consultancy, to produce a long-range strategic plan for the program, which identified how best to address the growing region’s needs. In tandem, Karp also conducted the regional food assessment for the Northwest Arkansas Council, which informed and identified synergies between the two studies. NWACC will serve as collaborative partner in strengthening the regional food-related economy.
“The expansion of our culinary program specifically addresses our area’s workforce needs over the coming years,” Mack said. “The food assessment study found that food and hospitality jobs in Northwest Arkansas now represent more than 28,800 jobs. Those occupations are expected to increase 10 percent over the next decade. Our goal is to build a program that increases our region’s restaurant startups and stimulates culinary entrepreneurs, which will ultimately create more demand for graduates of the CAHM program.”
Pending NWACC Board of Trustee approval, the expanded culinary program is anticipated to relocate from its current space at the Center for Nonprofits @ St. Mary’s in Rogers to a former industrial plant on Eighth Street in southeast Bentonville, which is being adapted for reuse by the Community Development Corporation of Bentonville/Bella Vista (CDC). The new facility will be located within the Bentonville Market District, a 10-acre redevelopment in the southeast part of downtown Bentonville that could someday feature new restaurants and other food-related activities and businesses, said Troy Galloway, Bentonville community and economic development director.
The CAHM would be slated to occupy 27,500 square feet in the adaptive reuse project that has the potential to be complete and ready for occupancy by the start of the Fall 2016 semester. Renovation plans for the rest of the facility are not yet complete.
The existing Tyson Culinary Learning Center will play an integral role in the expansion plans, serving as the lifeline between the new facility and the college’s main campus.
“With a vision of being a nationally recognized two-year college, NWACC is distinctly positioned to serve and strengthen the community through this endeavor,” said NWACC President Evelyn E. Jorgenson. “This infusion of resources into culinary education will not only enhance the learning experience through expanded hands-on curriculum that fosters practical learning, it also will anchor this as a world-class program in the immediate future and secure an outlet for accommodating future industry demands.”
The Walton Family Foundation grants supporting the region’s culinary vision total $15,072,247. A two-year grant of $8,352,885 funds the CDC to redevelop a portion of the former industrial plant to accommodate the college’s new offerings. The CDC plans to lease the space to NWACC for an amount yet to be determined.
A three-year grant of $2,114,728 to the NorthWest Arkansas Community College Foundation will allow for the necessary growth of the college’s culinary operations and curriculum development.
A one-year grant of up to $4,604,634 also awarded to the college’s foundation will assist in buying and installing furniture, fixtures and equipment to enhance the program offerings.