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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN Jeff Amerine, founder of Startup Junkie, speaks Tuesday at Fayetteville City Hall as council members Adella Gray and Mark Kinion listen. Amerine gave the City Council an update on business growth and entrepreneurship as part of his firm's economic development contract with the city.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Recent accomplishments of the city's economic initiative include expanded programs and outreach, an emphasis on small business development among minorities and attraction of major companies.

Representatives with consultant group Startup Junkie and the Chamber of Commerce updated City Council members on the progress of the economic development strategy, Fayetteville First, on Tuesday. The two entities signed contracts in October 2016 paying Startup Junkie $300,000 over two years and the chamber $360,000 over the same period.

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Startup Junkie, an entrepreneurial support organization based in Fayetteville, provides consulting, mentoring, training and other forms of assistance for free to budding businesses. The group works to brand Fayetteville as "the Startup City of the South." The city has held a contract with the chamber for a number of years for economic development purposes but shifted the focus to retail and business retention and expansion.

From July to December, Startup Junkie consulted 417 entrepreneurs, more than 60 percent of whom were women, minorities or veterans, according to the group's presentation. The firm works across industries and helps companies get started, grow, become sustainable and address customer needs, founder Jeff Amerine said.

"We are in fact like the Ellis Island for entrepreneurs," he said. "We want everyone to come in who's got an idea, regardless of where they are in that spectrum of maturity in their thinking."

More than 2,600 people attended various events, workshops and programs Startup Junkie hosted during those five months. Startup Crawl, held on the square in September, was the largest entrepreneurship-focused event in the state's history, according to Amerine.

About 300 attendees also packed 1 E. Center St. for IdeaFame Live, a program similar to Shark Tank in which contestants pitch business ideas for a cash prize. The NWA Venture MashUp featured multiple events and speakers, including Elise Mitchell, founder of Mitchell Communications Group, which has offices in New York, Chicago and Fayetteville.

The introduction of OurPharma, a generic pharmaceutical manufacturing company, marked a collaborative success between the city, Startup Junkie and Chamber of Commerce, Amerine said. The company -- founded by Peter Kohler, former vice chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Northwest Arkansas campus -- broke ground on its $31 million facility in November.

Chung Tan, chief economic development officer with the chamber, said the city had a net gain of about 175 new businesses from October 2016 to September. That resulted in more than 600 full-time equivalent jobs, she said. With the exception of February, the city's unemployment rate stayed below 3 percent.

Business space expansion has risen since 2015, Tan said. Construction of new buildings for businesses has stayed relatively low since 2015, and chamber officials are working on finding affordable, suitable space for office start-ups and retail, she said.

The Uptown and Watermark apartments on the north side of town have brought more customers to nearby businesses. Regulations, such as zoning and permitting, and power outages in the Commerce District have presented challenges, Tan said.

Among big things to come this year will be the filming of Season 3 of HBO's True Detective, hosting of the Arkansas Economic Developers and Arkansas Chamber of Commerce joint annual conference in August and establishment of an office of a major executive search company out of Dallas, Tan said.

Tan didn't identify the Dallas company but said it would help close the gap the city has faced in finding corporate, management-level employees with at least three to five years of experience.

"For this company to come here is a good catch for us," she said. "They will be able to help us search nationally to bring skilled talent here."

NW News on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: City attracts business, grows potential

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