EDC announces "innovation center"

Judge Randy Philhours, chair of the Economic Development Corporation of Paragould’s Innovation Committee, tells the EDC of newly acquired buildings that will house the Innovation Center. The facility will be on the west side of the 200 block of North Pruett Street.

The city of Paragould needs an “Innovation Center.”

As announced recently by Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Innovation Committee Chair Judge Randy Philhours, the EDC of Paragould has purchased the entire city block of Pruett Street north of Chow. An Innovation Center, as Philhours explained, can be thought of as a “small business incubator.”

That is, the 10,000 square feet in the three buildings on the west side of the 200 block of North Pruett will incorporate a number of features to enable those considering a small business venture to experiment, meet, plan, operate and so forth. “There will be a commercial kitchen,” Philhours said, “so people who use that for their catering business – experiment to see whether they really and truly do want to be restauranteurs.”

Philhours also said the facility would include shared workspace for meeting spaces, space for conferences, traveling art exhibits. The center is also to feature workspaces where youngsters and adults can make prototypes – “tinker,” as Philhours said – and learn skills that can result in new trades.

“Any new ‘start-up’ businesses need a brick-and-mortar address,” he said, “and we will have space for them to do that.”

Not that the spaces would be available indefinitely or gratis, however. “We talked about maybe three months for free,” Philhours said, “and then maybe have them pay rent to stay a little bit longer.”

Philhours said the EDC has applied for numerous grants to be able to “flesh out” the Center. “We visited facilities like this in Jackson, Tennessee, Little Rock and Conway,” he said. “So we kind of know what some other folks are doing. And I don’t think anyone smaller than us is doing anything like this.”

Saying the Innovation Center is a “giant leap forward for Paragould,” Philhours nevertheless cautioned that the existence of an Innovation Center was no guarantee that people would flock to Paragould, either to work or to live; or that businesses would rush to the city to set up shop. “What we do know,” he continued, “is that [by] not doing this, none of those things will happen.”

Philhours acknowledged that the ability to attract businesses like Anchor Packaging, Greenbrier (American Railcar) or Utility Trailer has become much more difficult. “You can’t drive them around and show them the town and let them experience what the work ethic of your people [is],” he said. “You have to impress them online.”

Philhours concluded by acknowledging that the real growth of cities may not come 250 jobs and 250,000 square feet at a time. “It may come 10,000 square feet and 10 jobs at a time,” he said, “and 10, and 10, and 10.”

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