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OneHealth buys Heifer office in Little Rock

Two floors to be Lyon College dental, veterinary schools by Neal Earley | May 20, 2022 at 7:05 a.m.
OneHealth founding partner Merritt Dake discusses the purchase of the Heifer International campus Thursday in Little Rock. He predicted the result will be “a great economic engine for the city of Little Rock and the state of Arkansas.” (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansas healthcare company OneHealth said Thursday it is purchasing the Heifer International campus as part of its plan with Lyon College to start veterinary and dental schools in Little Rock.

Heifer International will remain on the campus, leasing space from OneHealth.

Officials from OneHealth and Heifer International declined to disclose the sale price.

Heifer International will remain on the third and fourth floors of their current building, while Lyon College will occupy the bottom two floors. Hilary Haddigan, chief of mission effectiveness for Heifer International, said the organization didn't need the space with many of its employees working from home.

Haddigan said the sale of their campus will help the nonprofit downsize its overhead operations and instead focus more money on its mission to end world hunger.

"Selling the Little Rock campus enables Heifer International to focus more of its resources on impactful programs that deliver sustainable locally led solutions to end hunger and poverty around the world," Haddigan said.

Once established, Lyon College will have the only veterinary and dental schools in the state.

Heifer first announced it would sell its campus in a news release Tuesday, saying doing so gave the nonprofit more flexibility. In April, Lyon College, a small liberal arts school in Batesville, announced it planned to open veterinary and dental schools and was searching for a location in Little Rock.

Melissa Taverner, president of Lyon College, said she expects the Little Rock-based dental and veterinary schools to begin classes in either 2024 or 2025. The number of students enrolled in each program will depend on the accreditation process, Taverner said.

Heifer said it will close its public education space in December after the sale of the campus is finalized. Heifer said it will work with the new management to come up with an alternative public space.

Haddigan said Heifer will rework its office space to be more open and accessible for videoconferencing as many of its employees are based around the world and many of its locally based staff prefer their home offices.

Merritt Dake, a founding partner at OneHealth, said he was interested in helping bring a dental school to Little Rock. OneHealth is a Little Rock-based company that assists healthcare providers with capital, finding office space, technology to help manage patient care and payment. OneHealth also supports "the launch of highly innovative & efficient professional healthcare programs," according to its website.

Before OneHealth, Dake was chief executive officer of Rock Dental Brands, and he said he saw a need for more dentists in the state. Through mutual connections, Dake teamed up with officials from Lyon College and Heifer for the proposed veterinary and dental programs, he said.

"We believe it's a great economic engine for the city of Little Rock and the state of Arkansas," Dake said.


The move comes as a major change to the Little Rock-based nonprofit, which opened its $17 million campus in 2006.

The 94,000-square-foot office has served as a key anchor in Little Rock's East Village, a former industrial zone that has transformed into a trendy neighborhood after the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center and later Heifer International's Headquarters.

Heifer officials said they think the sale will bring more people to East Village, as many of their employees have been working from home. Dental and veterinary students and Lyon College staff will fill the empty spaces left by Heifer's employees.

"This is an opportunity to get a lot more energy and a lot more excitement back into the space and that will also benefit local businesses as well," said Chris Coxon, vice president of communications for Heifer International. "You're going to be looking at a lot more foot traffic coming in here."

Haddigan said the sale won't affect the 165 Heifer employees based in Little Rock, saying the nonprofit is committed to not cutting back on its Arkansas base. Instead, Heifer will rework its office space on the third and fourth floors to be more friendly for video conferences and remote working.

"Little Rock and Arkansas are very important to us and I want to be very clear, we are not leaving Little Rock, we are not leaving Little Rock. We are staying here," Haddigan said.

Heifer International will remain at its Little Rock headquarters, but visitors to the campus can expect changes when new management takes over in 2023. Most notably, Heifer International will close its on-campus education space in December, according to Coxon, a Heifer spokesman. Heifer said it will continue to own and operate its ranch in Perryville.

"The look and feel of the place will remain," Coxon said.

Out-going Heifer President and Chief Executive Officer Pierre Ferrari wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in February that the non-profit will reduce its footprint in Little Rock. Ferrari will step down in September after spending 10 years with Heifer.

"Like many businesses in the state, our work had to adapt to significant change over the last two years," Ferrari wrote. "As Heifer's programs around the world have evolved, so too has Heifer's headquarters."

Dan West, a farmer from Indiana, founded Heifer International in 1944, as an organization that would fight starvation, not through donating food, but by helping farmers become more productive, often through donating livestock. In 1971, Heifer moved from St. Louis to Little Rock and opened a ranch in Perryville.


Arkansas ranks close to last in the nation when it comes to the number of dentists and veterinarians per capita.

According to data from the national Library of Medicine, Arkansas had just 41.82 dentists per 100,000 people in 2019, ranked only ahead of Alabama. For veterinarians, Arkansas is ranked dead last with only 14 veterinarians per 100,000 people, according to

Currently, Arkansas is one of the few states that doesn't have either a dental or a veterinary program, contributing to why the state has relatively few dentists and veterinarians.

Arkansas is one of 14 states to not have a dental school or college, according to listings from the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Arkansas is also one of 23 states to not have a veterinary school, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences does offer some dentistry programs but does not have a dental school.

In April, Lyon College announced it was seeking locations in Little Rock for veterinary and dental schools, with reports the school planned to partner with OneHealth.

"Although professional training and veterinary medicine has never been offered in Arkansas, our institutions of higher learning throughout the state routinely prepare capable and dedicated persons who must seek their training elsewhere," Taverner said. "Although some return home to practice, many young professionals choose to remain where they train."

Like many colleges, Lyon College has had life upended by covid-19. Declining enrollment has pushed administrators to consider a merger with the University of the Ozarks, a private college also affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.

Taverner said the school has shifted much of its focus toward graduate programs, recently adding programs in education. For its dental and veterinary programs, Lyon College will await accreditation, which could take several years.

The accreditation process will ultimately determine when Lyon College's planned Institute of Health Sciences will begin classes and how many students it can enroll.

  photo  Jeff Titus, farm technician at the Heifer Urban Farm, trims tomato plants on the farm on Thursday amid the announcement that Heifer International has sold its campus to Lyon College and OneHealth. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)


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