River Valley entrepreneurs gather Wednesday for the Invest Fort Smith summit

FORT SMITH – Both established and emerging River Valley entrepreneurs can connect and hear from their peers at a free, business-focused summit this week.

64.6 Downtown, a Fort Smith nonprofit, will partner with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith’s Center for Economic Development and the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center to host the annual Invest Fort Smith Wednesday. The event will be held from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Center for Economic Development in the Bakery District at 70 S. Seventh St. in downtown Fort Smith.

Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown, said the purpose is to ignite entrepreneurs in the River Valley area. It also provides a networking opportunity for those interested in starting or expanding their business and finding out what related opportunities exist in downtown Fort Smith.

Richardson said companies are still struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People want to network,” Richardson said. “They want to meet people and connect with people like them who are in this thing called business, and they want to stay in business.”

Bill Sabo, regional director of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at UAFS, which serves Crawford, Scott and Sebastian counties, said Invest Fort Smith is primarily about communicating business developments in the River Valley. He said entrepreneurs often work in a vacuum and seeing such developments helps inspire their own endeavors.

“It really helps when other people, other entrepreneurs, small businesses can see what’s happening and whether it’s to build a collaboration, come up with an idea or just tell a story about that space, I think it is.” really important,” Sabo said.

Kendall Ross, executive director of the UAFS Center for Economic Development, said entrepreneurs face a multitude of challenges, and while his center may not have the solution, it is the nexus to help them find it. Invest Fort Smith is a way to connect entrepreneurs with people who may have already faced the same problems and have come up with solutions.

According to a press release from 64.6 Downtown, Wednesday’s Invest Fort Smith will feature three panel discussions, each dedicated to a specific topic. They include:

• 1:30 pm – Government and School Contracting: Learn from the procurement departments of government agencies and educational institutions about their product/service requirements while gaining an understanding of the process to become a vendor.

• 2:30 pm – Economic Benefits of Inclusion: Learn why it is important for entrepreneurs and companies to promote inclusion in business practices related to hiring and promotion, customer relationships and supplier diversity.

• 3:30 pm – Preparing for Business Growth: Learn how the community can prepare for opportunities developing around military assets and other companies in the pipeline.

Richardson said 64.6 Downtown will “scratch the surface” of diversity, equity and inclusion with these panel discussions.

“We want to discuss how individuals who are in business or want to be in business can truly integrate DEI principles into their work practices,” Richardson said. “How do you diversify your supply chain? How do you ensure you have a bilingual staff to meet not only the needs of your customers but also the growing customers?”

Richardson said the Fort Smith area will show greater diversity when a planned military mission comes to Ebbing Air National Guard Base.

Ebbing at Fort Smith Regional Airport was selected last year as the Air Force’s preferred location for a pilot training center for Singapore and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales program. The proposal would accommodate up to 24 foreign Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft and transport 12 Singapore Air Force General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons currently based at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz.

Richardson believes the community has a responsibility to welcome people with essential amenities, not just those related to culture and the arts.

“We don’t know what we don’t know, and so through this exchange we’re going to challenge the community to dust off their research and genuinely commit to welcoming this mission and all other related companies that are coming to market as a result of this mission Fort Smith,” Richardson said.

Richardson said more than 40 people were registered. The summit is limited to 100 registrations, although walk-ins are welcome where spaces are available. Registration is open until Tuesday.

The first 50 people to register online for the event will receive a free “swag bag” of $50 worth of items provided by local businesses, the press release said. Companies include Fort Smith Brewing Co., Fort Smith Coffee Co., Olen & Co. Market and Sacred Treasure.

Kaity Gould, who owns Fort Smith Coffee Co. with her husband Gabe Gould, said she was a panelist at the inaugural Invest Fort Smith Summit in 2018. Her panel consisted of other women entrepreneurs.

Gould described her experience as smooth, informative and unpretentious, as well as empowering. She believes Invest Fort Smith is driving dynamism for entrepreneurs and businesses in the River Valley.

“It’s been nice to be surrounded by other like-minded people who are persistent and passionate about seeing our city grow,” Gould said.

photo Lisa Hotsenpiller (left), director of careers and tech education at Fayetteville Public Schools, visits other techs Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at a luncheon and tour hosted by the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Center Directors of Secondary Career Centers throughout Arkansas for Economic Development in the Bakery District of downtown Fort Smith. The center has partnered with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center and Fort Smith-based nonprofit 64.6 Downtown to host Invest Fort Smith’s fifth annual summit on November 16. Visit nwaonline.com/221113Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Jim Davis (left), Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education at Rogers Public Schools, visits other technical directors at a luncheon and tour hosted by the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Center on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 secondary career centers throughout Arkansas for economic development in the Bakery District in downtown Fort Smith. The center has partnered with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center and Fort Smith-based nonprofit 64.6 Downtown to host Invest Fort Smith’s fifth annual summit on November 16. Visit nwaonline.com/221113Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

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