Say you’ve got a Big Idea for a world-changing product – but production will require a 3-D printer, which you don’t have. Or maybe you’re eyeing a graphic design job, but just don’t have the tech knowledge it requires. Or maybe you just want to have some fun while acquiring a new skill.
Now, there’s a place in downtown Fayetteville that may offer just the help you need. The Northwest Arkansas Fab Lab – short for Fabrication Laboratory – offers 5,000 square feet of “maker” space filled with modern-day tools that can help creative talent, entrepreneurs, students and dreamers realize their ideas while strengthening the area workforce. Open to the public, the Lab contains everything from familiar sewing machines to such high-tech tools as 3-D printers, vinyl cutters, CNC routers and software.
For Makers From 7 to 70
“We want the Fab Lab to teach not just skills, but skills that increase your employability or maybe help you become an entrepreneur,” says Chung Tan, economic development director for the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, which opened the Lab in its headquarters building in Fayetteville’s Innovation District.
“We’re teaching our residents from 7 to 70 to be leaders. We provide the space and the equipment to do great things. The next step is how you’ll apply what you’ve learned.”
The Lab is part of the United States Fab Lab network and the Fab Foundation, launched by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More than 450 Fab Labs are scattered around the world, sharing a mission to encourage experimentation, creativity, collaboration and open access to technology tools, all to foster achievement in science, technology math and more.
The Lab holds regularly scheduled classes, such as the Monday Makers Club, but also fosters individual experimentation and projects. Since it opened in August 2016, the Lab has become a favorite for school groups, who come to learn skills they can use on school projects or for fun.
It also has worked with other organizations. In April 2017, for example, it partnered with the STEM Girls program of the Arkansas Educational Television Network for an Explore and Discover workshop for middle school students.
Though fun seems to break out regularly at Fab Lab, an important upside is its practical benefit to the area’s economy.
“By training residents in these 21st-century skills that will be needed in the workplace, the Lab is improving the talent pool in our community, and that helps our overall economic development,” Tan says.