Non-profit hopes to launch NEA innovation hubs - The Herald: #Life

Non-profit hopes to launch NEA innovation hubs

A-State Herald | Staff Report | Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017 9:00 am

A non-profit organization has received a grant from the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) to conduct an innovation hub feasibility study in two Arkansas counties and four southern Missouri counties.

Doniphan Vitality is a non-profit organization based in Doniphan, Missouri. Their mission is to build partnerships to create a better place to live, work and play.

“We believe the way to create sustainable economic growth and by partnering with community leaders, businesses, grant-makers and government to improve the Ozarks as a region,” according to the website.

The $100,000 grant will be met with a $20,000 investment from the University of Missouri Extension Office.

The idea is to have an innovation hub in towns like Hardy and Pocahontas. The hub would be similar to the Arkansas Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. 

“We need to bring creative people into the fold,” Doniphan Vitality Arkansas leadership point person Graycen Bigger told “Talk Business and Politics.” “We need to develop our businesses and provide assistance to entrepreneurs. Creative placemaking is a necessary tool.”

Project leaders hope to complete the study by the end of 2017, however, the grant has a two-year window. 

The new hub would serve as a workspace for craftsman and would allow regional artisans to enjoy a shared office space as well as equipment, professional training and development. 

These artisans also would be able to distribute their products in the Ozark Mountain region. Bigger said there will be an emphasis on online sales as well.

“The first step is to create a network of artisans, business leaders, entrepreneurs and others who might benefit from these hubs,” Bigger said.

Hardy and Pocahontas are potential landing spots for the hubs in Arkansas. The former Brown shoe factory near the Black River in Pocahontas has been cited as a possible location.

DRA agreed to provide financial support for the study because it involved multiple states. 

“The counties selected have some of the lowest per capita income levels in the country and need to find ways to expand their economic prospects,” Bigger said.

 Sharp county has an unemployment rate of 5.6% -- one of the highest in the state -- and Randolph county has an unemployment rate of 4.9%.

The area’s economic poverty will be an obstacle when it comes to building the hubs, but the benefits could have a great impact on the economy.

Part of the study will focus on the demand and potential market for Ozark artisan products. The study will also have to determine what available resources are in the region and what funding sources are available as well.

Community workshops will be held March 21 at the Black River Technical College continuing education building, April 6 at the Hardy City Hall and another held May 6 during the Pocahontas Founders’ Day festival.

For more information contact Graycen Bigger at (870) 335-7409 or at