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story.lead_photo.caption File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Canon Reeves of Fayetteville gives his team's presentation on affordable robotic kits for educational purposes on March 11 at the end of the Techstars Northwest Arkansas Startup Weekend.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Business owners and entrepreneurs have benefited from having one-on-one interactions with the two entities with whom the city contracts to spur economic development, according to presentations from representatives of both groups Tuesday.

The City Council heard from Jeff Amerine, founder of Startup Junkie, and Chung Tan, chief economic development officer with the Chamber of Commerce, during its agenda session. The two made presentations as part of an agreement with the city to implement the Fayetteville First economic development strategy.

The council agreed in October 2016 to pay Startup Junkie, a local entrepreneurial consulting service, $300,000 over two years. The nonprofit organization's primary responsibilities are to help startups get off the ground and help them grow and become sustainable.

The second part of the contract was with the chamber, paying $360,000, also over two years, to focus on retail and retaining business in the city.

Both entities are required to give semi-annual updates to the council showing progress on meeting the city's economic goals.

The chamber measured outcomes from October to March. Startup Junkie reported activity from December to May.

Between the two, about 600 entrepreneurs or business owners received one-on-one consultation.

"We're a welcoming operation," Amerine said. "Anyone who walks in the door, contacts us, emails us -- we'll meet with to see if we can help them on the entrepreneurial journey regardless of what type of business or what sector. We cover all of it."

Lunch & Learn

Startup Junkie and the University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship & Innovation will host “Opportunity Zones in Arkansas” as part of its Lunch & Learn series. Mary Beth Brooks of The Strategy Consulting and Leslie Lane with Arkansas Capital will speak.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 21

Where: Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, 123 W. Mountain St.

Source: Staff report

Startup Junkie held 36 events, including NWA Startup Weekend in March. Several prospective companies pitched ideas and one, ModBot, which aims to provide cost-effective robotics to school districts, has formed and is raising money, Amerine said.

A new angle the chamber has taken on is housing. A talented workforce needs to be able to live in the city, Tan said.

By the chamber's measure, new residential construction in Fayetteville costs roughly $159 per square foot. Resale residential costs $151 per square foot. Both rates are the highest in Northwest Arkansas, the chamber's numbers suggest.

The combination of people wanting to live in the city, land getting gobbled up and low unemployment with higher wages has its unintended flipside, Tan said. More mixed-use, higher-density development may serve as a way to get the supply to meet the demand, she said.

"The economy is chugging along. The new jobs are being created, and that creates the demand for new housing," Tan said. "But the types of housing, the trend, is changing."

Unemployment in the city hovered around 2½ to 3 percent from September to March, according to a chamber graphic.

New businesses include Altitude Trampoline Park, Juice Palm and Fairfield Inn & Suites Fayetteville. One 100,000-square-foot building and one 80,000-square-foot warehouse have space to lease, Tan said.

NWA Startup Weekend likely will become an annual event, with more entrepreneurial events on the way. Amerine said Startup Junkie runs about 200 events a year with 18 people.

Tan and Economic Vitality Director Devin Howland also were the sole representatives of Northwest Arkansas at RECon, the global retail real estate convention, held at the end of May in Las Vegas. Creating the economic vitality director position and hiring Howland last year also serve as part of the city's economic initiative.

The event gave Fayetteville exposure to the national market and a chance to invite outside developers to invest in the city, he said.

"It really is stepping up our recruitment efforts to begin playing offense instead of defense," Howland said.

NW News on 06/13/2018

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