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Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Sept. 5, 2017) — The third year of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Uncommon Communities initiative will kick off this week with a meeting in Morrilton.

This year’s sessions will differ from previous years in that the bimonthly meetings will take place in the five counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – that are part of the initiative. First up is Conway County, which will host the two-day workshop beginning Thursday at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. In past years, the bimonthly meetings were held at the Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain.

“This year’s sessions will highlight the good work that these five counties have been doing since the start of the program in 2015,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “In addition to bringing in speakers and hearing from our partnering experts, our participating community leaders will help one another assess the potential strengths and opportunities for improvement in each of their communities. They will report on their successes and help each other look ahead to a vibrant and sustainable 21st century economy in rural Arkansas.”

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Uncommon Communities began as a pilot program focusing on five counties in the vicinity of the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell. All of these counties are largely rural and have poverty rates between 17 and 23 percent; lost 1,249 jobs between 2007 and 2013; and have unemployment rates that are 109 percent of the state average. Uncommon Communities serves as a model in addressing these critical issues in quality of living and community/economic development.

“The Institute partnered with Drs. Grisham, Peterson and Robertson to create Uncommon Communities because we know it’s the kind of work that Winthrop Rockefeller did,” Harris said. “Gov. Rockefeller made significant contributions to rural Arkansas through personal philanthropy and through policy initiatives. We know he would be proud of the progress these five communities have made over the past two years.”

This week’s session will feature two guest speakers: Greg Tehven, co-founder of Emerging Prairie in Fargo, N.D., and Charlotte Strickland, founder of Strickly Speaking and director of professional development and training at the University of Central Arkansas. While most of the two-day session is restricted only for the community leaders participating in the initiative, the two keynotes are open to public. Those interested in attending the keynote presentation should contact program officer Samantha Evans at 501-727-6257 or sevans@uawri.org.

For more information about Uncommon Communities, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/institute-programs/uncommon.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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League of Historic American Theatres CEO to deliver keynote at Historic Theaters Conference

Ken Stein, president and CEO of the League of Historic American Theatres, will deliver the keynote address at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11. The conference represents a partnership between the Rockefeller Institute, the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council and the city of Morrilton.

Stein, an expert in preservation, fundraising, marketing and management within the arts, will speak about “The Power of the Historic Theatre,” which will explore a case study of a historic theater in Austin, Texas, that went from bankruptcy to being the most profitable arts organization in Texas’s capitol in just three years.

Stein has more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and has raised more than $100 million in his work for various organizations.

“Ken’s vast experience in marketing arts organizations and his proven record of success make him an ideal keynote speaker for the Historic Theaters Conference,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “His insights will be invaluable to our participants in their efforts to preserve and expand their local historic theaters.”

Stein will deliver his presentation at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10. The Historic Theaters Conference aims to equip engaged staff, volunteers and other interested people to preserve, promote and prosper the 22 historic theaters in Arkansas, as well as historic theaters in neighboring states. Registration, which includes the conference, overnight lodging at the Rockefeller Institute and all meals, is $75 for the first person from each community or organization and $50 for subsequent registrants from the same community or organization. More information and a link for registration can be found at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/theaters.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Under 40 Forum report touts ways to heal state’s ‘fractures’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 30, 2017) — The 2017 Under 40 Forum report was released this morning by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The report is being mailed to political, business and community leaders across the state and can be viewed online at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/2017under40report.

The report summarizes the discussions that took place March 2-3 at the Rockefeller Institute at the Under 40 Forum, which invited all 40 Under 40 honorees as designated by the two business publications in 2016 to engage in meaningful dialogue to address “Fractured Arkansas.” The topic sought to explore the various divisions – social, economic, cultural, political, etc. – that divide the state and hinder progress, and to offer solutions to those challenges.

A group of the 2017 Under 40 Forum participants met earlier today with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to discuss the report and expand on their findings.

“After my meeting with the Under 40 honorees at the Capitol on Tuesday morning, I am more confident than ever about the future of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “This generation of leaders have big ideas and the commitment to service that will help bring the ideas into reality. I applaud them for their hard work and clear thinking.”

One of the key issues identified in the report is a need for alternative approaches to education.

“It’s no surprise that education was a key part of the discussion at the Under 40 Forum,” said Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director of the Rockefeller Institute. “This topic was a highlight of their meeting with the governor. They championed a greater commitment to internships and mentorships for high school students. Building bridges between the business community and our schools was a clear priority.”

Another key theme of the report is leadership in cultural competency.

“The need for better understanding across cultural gaps is pretty clear,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. “It was encouraging to have this impressive group of young leaders, from various cultural backgrounds, all working together and all willing to be honest with the governor about what they think is important.”

One of the recommendations in the report is for cultural competency to become a priority not just in the more populated portions of the state, but also in small towns and in corporate board rooms.

The Under 40 Forum began in 2016 as a partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. It was supported this year by Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Simmons Bank, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Clinton School.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre returns to Winthrop Rockefeller Institute June 24 with The Taming of the Shrew

Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre returns to Winthrop Rockefeller Institute June 24 with The Taming of the Shrew

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 26, 2017) — The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre will return to Petit Jean Mountain for the fourth straight year with a performance of the Shakespeare classic The Taming of the Shrew. The free, family-friendly performance will be held Saturday, June 24, on the front lawn of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

The performance of The Taming of the Shrew will cap off an afternoon of fun at the Rockefeller Institute, beginning with a free Shakespearean language workshop for ages 10 and older at 4:30 p.m. that will be led by Chad Bradford, director of The Taming of the Shrew. Following the workshop, visitors will have the chance to dine outdoors on the Institute’s lawn. Visitors may bring their own picnic dinner or purchase food from food trucks that will be on hand. The performance will then follow at 7 p.m.

“We look forward to this performance every year,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “Given his commitment to the arts and community engagement, we know Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller would be proud of this event.”

The Taming of the Shrew follows the tale of Petruchio as he tries to win the heart of “Kate the Curst.” The performance will include plenty of audience participation, sure to delight viewers of all ages.

“This play promises to be a lot of fun,” said Dr. Mary Ruth Marotte, executive director of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. “Our experience at the Institute grows a little each year, and adding the workshop this year will provide yet another way for our audience to engage with Shakespeare.”

While admission is free, advance registration is required. For more information, including a link for registration, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/taming. Questions about the performance should be directed to Program Officer Payton Christenberry at pchristenberry@uawri.org.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Historic Theaters Conference to lift up ‘artistic lifeblood of community’

Historic Theaters Conference to lift up ‘artistic lifeblood of community’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 17, 2017) — Historic theaters are far more than old buildings that represent a bygone era. For many small towns, they remain important centers of artistic activity.

That concept is the theme behind the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, through Friday, Aug. 11, at the Institute on Petit Jean Mountain. The Rockefeller Institute is partnering with the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council and the City of Morrilton to present the conference.

“Historic theaters are often the artistic lifeblood of a community, and there are many ways to leverage their influence and preserve their future,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “We look forward to sharing some of those strategies and re-energizing the efforts of those who care about historic theaters in Arkansas and in our neighboring states.”

The conference will bring in outside speakers to discuss a variety of topics, including innovative ways to utilize historic theaters that engage communities in new ways and also contribute to a theater’s sustainability. On this topic, the Rockefeller Institute will lead by example with a special art display that will be announced in the coming weeks.

Other topics include fundraising, marketing, preservation and more. In addition to hearing from key experts, the conference will include ample opportunities for those working on and passionate about historic theaters to network and share success stories.

“Historic theaters are frequently an important piece of a downtown renaissance,” said Stacy Hurst, Department of Arkansas Heritage director. “We feel this is an opportunity to help communities learn the value these historic theaters hold as resources for redevelopment and community revitalization.”

The conference is open to anyone who is interested in historic theaters, community arts programs and/or historic preservation. Admission for the conference, which covers registration, meals and lodging at the Rockefeller Institute’s premiere conference center, is $75 per person. After one person has registered representing a historic theater, community and/or arts organization, each additional person representing that same entity will be discounted to $50.

For more information, a conference agenda and a link for registration, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/theaters.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Surprise award

The Institute is extremely proud that Program Officer Samantha Evans was honored with the Arkansas Community Development Society’s New Professional Award. Samantha has been actively involved in community development, especially in Arkansas, for most of her professional years.

This past Friday, two representatives from the Society - including Whitney Horton, pictured above on the left with Sam on the right - came to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute to surprise Sam with the award. Sam was very touched, as you can see on our Facebook page.

Sam comes from five years at Main Street Arkansas serving as its assistant director. In this position, she worked with numerous small- and medium-sized communities throughout the state of Arkansas where she worked to help interested citizens revitalize their downtown.

Sam served both on the board and as peer-elected chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals of Little Rock. Under her leadership as the board chair, Little Rock was selected to host the annual Young Nonprofit Professional National Conference. It was a very successful event highlighting Change Through Head, Heart and Hands. The Change Through Head, Heart and Hands was a national nonprofit leadership conference that in August 2015 brought 150 young, emerging leaders from throughout the nation to Little Rock. Sam played a strong role in promoting central Arkansas tourism for attendees, further deepening the investment and experience attendees had while expanding the event’s economic impact.

She created the monthly speaker series “Coffee with an Expert,” which brings executive directors across various sectors together to speak with YNPN members.  She also developed a fundraising plan to increase membership and sponsorship for the local organization.

Before working for Main Street Arkansas, Sam was the planning technician for the city of North Little Rock for two years. Originally from Perry County, Sam, now of Conway, worked with her home community to help save the Rosenwald School in Bigelow, once listed as one of Arkansas’ Most Endangered Places. She’s written articles on a variety of issues concerning community development and planning including this one.

Sam holds a Professional Community and Economic Developer Certification from the Community Development Council. She has a master’s degree from the Humphry School of Public Affairs in City/Urban Planning with an emphasis in Community and Regional Planning.

She was selected as a Krusell Community Development Fellow and MacArthur Fellow in 2007 as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. During her fellowships she worked with Model Cities CDC, a community-based development organization, and CommonBond, a large affordable housing development and management organization. Her placement experiences included: assisting with funding applications for tax credits; marketing research; data management and analysis; predevelopment planning and funding applications; assistance with façade improvement program; help with real estate closings. 

Sam is a regular speaker at conferences and events, including for the Community Development Institute, the National Main Streets Conference and innumerable local community sessions.

She received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science. In a nice Rockefeller connection, Spelman College, which was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminar, later changed in honor of Laura Spelman, John D. Rockefeller’s wife, and her parents, who were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. 

I had the privilege of working with Sam at a previous job, and I was thrilled when we got to be colleagues again here at the Institute. We’re very proud of her and look forward to seeing how her talent moves our programs forward in the future.

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'Together we can become worthy of the moment'

Working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and living atop Petit Jean Mountain, I am blessed with easy access to some of the prettiest scenic views in Arkansas. I can’t help but think that the picturesque vistas looking westward off of Petit Jean’s broad plateau is part of what kept Winthrop Rockefeller in Arkansas.

But Rockefeller’s view of Arkansas went well beyond his recognition of its natural beauty. From his farm, home and office on Petit Jean, he could see not just the physical attributes of the Arkansas River Valley, he cast a vision for the future of a state that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, was hanging in the balance.

That vision led him into politics, and 50 years ago today, he was sworn in as the 37th governor of the state of Arkansas.

A lot has changed in Arkansas in 50 years, and much of the positive change that has happened here can be traced back to the two terms that Winthrop Rockefeller served as governor.

Today I was privileged to sit in the gallery as Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered his State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. At the suggestion of our director of programs, Janet Harris, we reached out to the governor’s office to remind them that the State of the State address happened to fall on the monumental anniversary of Winthrop Rockefeller’s inauguration.

Gov. Hutchinson opened his address with a quote from Rockefeller’s inaugural speech:

“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I … a moment subject to special scrutiny … laden with special challenges … and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”

Hutchinson followed that quote with a charge to the Legislature: “Today, we have our own moment in history, and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.”

Commitment to a collaborative approach to problem-solving was a hallmark of not just Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration, but his entire life. I was proud to hear that sentiment echoed 50 years from the time he first took office.

I was also struck by some of the parallels between the two governors’ priorities. Hutchinson today spoke of the need for more efficiency in government. This was also a priority of Rockefeller, who dramatically reduced the total number of state agencies during his tenure as governor.

Hutchinson touted recent economic development efforts throughout the state, citing Sig Sauer in Jacksonville, Sun Paper in Arkadelphia, Metova in Conway, Mars Petcare in Fort Smith, FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro and J.B. Hunt in Rogers. Before running for governor, Rockefeller served as the chair of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, a precursor to today’s Economic Development Commission. He helped usher in more than 600 new industries in Arkansas, resulting in more than $250 million in added salaries.

I’d like to think that if Gov. Rockefeller could have heard today’s State of the State address, he would be proud to hear how far we’ve come as a state. But he would also roll up his sleeves and prepare for the work yet to be done.

A mentor once told me that if I wanted to truly make a difference in my life, I needed to become a part of something that would outlive me. He also suggested that if we hope to see our work completed, we simply have not asked big enough questions. Winthrop Rockefeller personified this philosophy and dared to ask big questions. He took on challenges that he knew he would not live to see conquered.

As I reflect on the work of the Institute and on the indelible legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller on this important anniversary, I am inspired by his accomplishments, but also by his heart and his approach—which was to engage and empower others and to encourage them to aim high toward answering the big questions.

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Fair play

A trip to the playground — hurtling down the rocket slide, soaring on the swing set, making yourself dizzy on the merry-go-round. For children in America, it’s a quintessential part of childhood, right? Right up there with refusing to eat your peas. The experience builds social bonds, encourages creativity and, of course, provides an exhilarating outlet for fun.

I’ll bet there is a good chance just reading those words conjured up one of your own playground memories — maybe a recent trip with your children or a recollection from your own childhood.

Some children, however, face challenges — through no fault of their own or of their parents — that make a traditionally designed playground something much less than a pursuit of unbridled enthusiasm. For example, children with disabilities or mobility impairments may be excluded because of accessibility or equipment issues. Or, perhaps, they have a parent or guardian who is confined to a wheelchair. These children not only lose the fun and social experiences that playgrounds bring, they miss the physical and mental health benefits that an active lifestyle provides.

The city of Bryant is hoping to remove those barriers, so that all of its citizens will be able to use the playground and take their children to the playground. In 2017, they plan to commence construction of a new universally designed, fully inclusive playground at Wilbur D. Mills Park — an 80-acre city park originally built in the early 1970s. The current equipment will be replaced with inclusive equipment that will allow all children to play and interact together (the current equipment, incidentally, will be repurposed in another park that doesn’t have a playground).

Renderings of new playground equipment at Mills Park

“Mills Park is a very important and historical park for Bryant,” Mayor Jill Dabbs said. “It’s filled with people every day and functions the way you want a park to function. So, it is already a healthy, active park … and it makes sense to invest in it and put this playground there.”

The project is far more than adding wheelchair access points to an existing playground. So, you may ask, how does a playground that is universally inclusive differ from a playground that is accessible? Well, Inspiring Play magazine describes it thusly: “An inclusive playground takes into account not just the physical equipment and tactics … it embraces the philosophy that children and adults of ALL abilities benefit immensely from being able to play and interact together. These types of playgrounds take into account children with physical disabilities as well as special needs or developmental disabilities.”

For example, the inclusive playground at Mills Park will be broken into three stations organized by age group. At each station, there will be playground equipment with ramps that allow access to everyone — including children, or their guardians, in wheelchairs.

“What that means is, (anyone) that is bound to a wheelchair will have the ability to enter and exit the playground equipment without ever having to leave that chair, unless they want to (to use the slide for example),” said Spencer McCorkel, assistant director of parks for the City of Bryant. “And that’s the point. This playground will accommodate any person from start to finish.”

Bryant’s commitment to providing a public space for all children to be active also coincides with the objectives of Healthy Active Arkansas (HAA). The statewide, 10-year framework – which Dabbs helped shape through her participation in planning summits put on by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute – launched in 2015 and was designed to improve nutrition, reduce obesity and other health issues, and broadly encourage and enable healthier lifestyles in Arkansas. Specifically, one of the nine priority areas that make up the HAA framework, Physical and Built Environment, urges stakeholders “to create livable places that improve mobility, availability and access within the community where they live, work and play.”

Casey Covington of Metroplan is the team lead for HAA’s Physical and Built Environment priority area. He recently praised Bryant’s commitment to this inclusive playground.

“We want to make sure that all our kids, including those with disabilities, have a place where they can be physically active while also reaping the social benefits that public spaces offer,” he said. “If someone is active at an early age, then their chances of maintaining an active lifestyle is significantly better.”

Parks Director Chris Treat said that depending on the amount of funding available at the start of the project, the city is hoping to complete the project in one phase by the end of 2017 — although he said they are prepared to phase it in over time, if necessary.

The city is still in the planning and fundraising stages for the new playground equipment, with part of the funding coming from reissued bonds. Of the $4 million designated to the Parks Department, $300,000 has been earmarked for the renovations at Mills Park. The total cost of the renovation is projected at $786,000, with the remainder to be raised through fundraising efforts with the assistance of the nonprofit Friends for Inclusive Parks (Everett Buick GMC in Bryant, for example, has already pledged $10,000). The city is also hopeful they will receive an additional $250,000 in grant funding.

The project has been in the works for approximately two years since the city was approached by community members such as Erin Gildner with Friends for Inclusive Parks. Dabbs says she is not aware of another park of this scale anywhere in the central Arkansas area, but that’s not what she will be most proud of when this project comes to fruition.

“The reason this opportunity is available is not because the local government said this is important, but because the people said it’s important, and that is when you get the best projects,” she said. “This particular project just encourages more activity in an already-active place, and it will be a park that people from all over the state will come and visit — a place that parents can seek out to have that normal playground experience, regardless of their child’s abilities.

“I think when people — no matter what their abilities are — are given the opportunity to become their best person, it benefits them and their communities long term in every way.”

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Poised to lead Arkansas into a new era of innovation, Winrock International and Innovation Hub join forces

“Our challenge in the years ahead will be to adapt our agriculture, our government services, our health care system and our industry to our changing world without forsaking our values. In other words, let’s embrace the energy of change and all the opportunity it brings without forsaking our foundation. … My top priority is to grow the economy of this state, to create jobs, and for Arkansas to enter a time of sustained economic power and influence.” — Gov. Asa Hutchinson, during his Inaugural Address, January 13, 2015

When Gov. Hutchinson summarizes his vision for Arkansas, time and time again, he comes back to economic development and innovation. While our state as a whole is arguably playing catchup in these areas, two Arkansas-born nonprofits have recently joined forces to create a dynamic model of innovation that is poised to have statewide — as well as national and global — impact.

In June, Winrock International, an international development organization that traces its roots to a charitable endeavor established by Winthrop Rockefeller, and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub announced they were combining. Warwick Sabin, executive director of the Innovation Hub, was named senior director of U.S. Programs at Winrock.

“Gov. Rockefeller wanted Arkansas to be a place where innovative solutions are developed and tested for the rest of the country and the world,” Sabin told me recently. “This is in line with that vision.

“Winrock is well established as an innovator in international development. The Hub has created new models of innovation that overlap and align with what Winrock is already doing.”

Sabin tells me that, as far as he knows, there is nothing exactly like the Innovation Hub anywhere. He said he traveled around the country to observe and learn from a variety of entrepreneur and maker spaces. For one, from the very beginning, the Innovation Hub has included programs not only for adults, but also young people, which is imperative from a talent-development perspective. But that’s not the only difference that stands out.

“The Innovation Hub is unique in that it combines maker, entrepreneur, art and design spaces … all in one place,” Sabin said. Additionally, “most of these (spaces around the country) are in the largest urban areas. We’re trying to bring this model into rural areas (in Arkansas).”

In fact, Sabin said he is excited about a project that Winrock will be unveiling soon in the Arkansas Delta. The venture, which has yet to be announced, will be one of the first opportunities to establish an example of how all the components of the Innovation Hub can be integrated into a set of solutions for rural communities. The effort, Sabin told me, is expected to “pilot new strategies for economic, workforce and rural development in the Delta.”

But the impact has the potential to resonate globally as part of Winrock’s international solutions. “Much of the work (of the Innovation Hub) is applicable to developing countries,” Sabin said, where there is a growing need “to do more with less.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at the Winrock International/Innovation Hub merger announcement.

The growing potential of this new collaboration has already generated excitement. Gov. Hutchinson spoke at the press conference in June when Winrock announced it was combining with the Innovation Hub. Here’s what Hutchinson had to say that day:

“This will spur real economic and community growth in our state and signals that Arkansas’ impact on the world will continue to grow. I’m especially intrigued by what this could mean in terms of workforce training, manufacturing, agriculture and, especially, the Arkansas knowledge industry.”

Already the Innovation Hub can point to the success of HubX Life Sciences, the state’s first privately funded health care accelerator program. The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub partnered with Baptist Health, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and The Iron Yard to attract seven innovative health care start-ups. The benefits, however, stretch far beyond the health care sector.

“We’re creating new models (that can benefit multiple sectors),” Sabin told me. “If successful, we’re going to change the face of community development and economic development in a huge part of our state.”

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