Central Arkansas’ Innovation Fueled By Strong Higher Learning and Talent
Research assets, talent create breakthrough industries in Central Arkansas
For most of the past five decades, a Central Arkansas company has been providing marketing services to the world’s most sophisticated and demanding marketers.
“There have been very few technology-dependent companies that have been able to survive, grow and prosper over the past 50 years,” says Jerry Jones, chief ethics and legal officer for Acxiom, based in Conway.
Jones attributes much of the company’s success to its ability to evolve and innovate on an ongoing basis.
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to do that is that we’ve hired our fair share of the best and brightest students coming out of Arkansas-based schools and universities,” he says.
Jones also credits Acxiom’s workforce for instilling a forward-thinking culture. The company’s campus in Conway, where more than 1,500 people work, is in the midst of a multi-year effort to refurbish and upgrade the physical plant.
“Our people are outstanding and their work ethic is tremendous,” says Jones. “When people come to work for us, they like working for us, they enjoy working with us, and so we have a low turnover rate.”
Among its accolades, Acxiom was named a 2018 Best Workplace in Technology by both Great Place to Work® and Fortune.
Acxiom isn’t the only company that is thriving in Conway. Hewlett-Packard employs 900 workers at its state-of-the-art customer service and technical support center, which opened in 2010.
Mainstream Technologies, a 20-year-old Little-Rock based IT firm that provides managed services, custom software and hosting, recently expanded into downtown Conway. And Insight Enterprises, a Fortune 500 company and global provider of IT solutions, opened a sales center at The Meadows Office and Technology Park in Conway.
The region also continues to benefit from the presence of the Little Rock Technology Park, a downtown facility that more than 40 technology-focused companies call home. The park offers office, meeting and event space, and in the second phase of its development, it will offer lab space designed to attract and retain biomed and nanotechnology companies.
The local higher education network continues to play a major role in fostering innovation in the region.
One key asset is the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology at University of Arkansas-Little Rock, which offers programs in six different departments including computer science, engineering technology, information science and systems engineering, and spearheads research in cutting-edge fields such as robotics, cyber security, virtual reality and nanotechnology.
Another major asset is University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the state’s only academic health center, established BioVentures LLC to promote the commercialization of UAMS intellectual property.
“Our role is to evaluate the intellectual property that comes out of UAMS and decide if we should pursue patent protection or copyright protection,” says Nancy M. Gray, president of BioVentures. “Then to the extent that we do pursue one of those avenues, it’s our responsibility to find a commercialization path, whether it be licensing it to an existing entity or putting it into a startup.”
BioVentures also operates an incubator for health sciences companies, one that can offer laboratory space to startups in need. The incubator has created 46 companies since its beginning, and currently 24 of those companies produce annual payroll of $18 million.
The not-for-profit has helped develop more than its share of success stories, including the Center for Toxicology & Environmental Health, Safe Foods, HD Nursing and eDocAmerica, the latter of which provides individuals and their family members email access to board-certified physicians, psychologists, pharmacists, dentists, dieticians and fitness experts who provide personal answers to health-related questions.
Gray is proud of the impact that BioVentures has had, both in terms of innovation and economic development.
“Over the course of our existence we have spun off over 50 companies, with 23 of them still in operation in Arkansas,” she says. “Moreover, approximately 400 jobs have been created, yet one more reason why Central Arkansas is increasingly regarded as a hub of innovation in cutting-edge industries.”