Fort Smith to Make 'Dough' Again at The Bakery District
The Bakery District is more than the hottest, hippest place for people searching for coffee, a book, and the best food trucks in Fort Smith; it has become the one-stop shop for local business owners and want- to-be business owners. The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith Center for Economic Development hosted its inaugural event in December with the quarterly breakfast meeting of the Family Enterprise Center. About 70 people attended the event, which went off without any hiccups.
The Family Enterprise Center, the Center for Business and Professional Development, and the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Center are now located at the UAFS Center for Economic Development location in the Bakery District. All three were housed in the Flanders Building on the college’s campus. “It’s in the middle of downtown and will be accessible to everyone,” said Kendall Ross, director of CBPD. “The UAFS campus is very friendly to visitors, but some of the people we work with still didn’t want to go there. Now we can take our services to the people instead of asking them to come to us.” The CBPD offers designed-to-order training to large and small businesses.
“We talk to people about what they need, and then we put it together for them,” Ross said. “We stand ready to help any business with a training need.” The Family Enterprise Center provides training to members, family-owned business leaders, who are seeking a confidential way to share experiences and seek recommendations from others with family- owned businesses. The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Center is a higher education-based economic development program that assists new and seasoned entrepreneurs with everything from business plans to succession strategies.
The new Center for Economic Development has seven full-time staff members, two student workers, and plans for interns. It is about 10,000 square feet and is equipped with the latest technology. Classrooms for 45 to 75 are available on the lower level. Taking out the moveable wall between them creates a room for 120. Flexible space presents opportunities for an executive conference room or large meeting room. Office space for the three centers will be upstairs, where there also will be two collaboration spaces and plenty of room for expansions. Ross said the idea of a space for the three entities, which do not serve traditional students, has been considered for a while.
When UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley arrived, she “had a vision of a regional office.” When in 2019, she had a chance to tour the Bakery District, “she saw the potential for a center of excellence,” Ross said. Active construction on the space began in January 2021. “We are in downtown Fort Smith, where the people who would benefit from our services can see us,” Ross said. “Anyone can just walk in, whether they never had a business but want to start one or they are the owner of a Fortune 100 company who needs professional development or upscaling. We want to get our service in front of people.”