The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, chief of freeway building to Conway and Benton and other regional points, is touting a visit today from the founder of the Atlanta Tech Village, a tech park of a sort.
It is not exactly like the Little Rock tech park conceived by the freeway builders at the chamber of commerce. Our tech park is financed, so far, solely by taxpayer money, mostly from city sales taxes on groceries, clothes, cars and Happy Meals. It is buying some downtown real estate (at windfall profits for owners) to install tech companies. The money was raised in a sales tax campaign that the chamber sold through a secretly run campaign. Four years later, it’s still struggling to get a head of steam. It has managed to play unfair politics with public money against a political foe (credit unions) in striking a loan deal with a consortium headed by the executive director’s father’s bank.
Read here about the Atlanta Tech Village, whose founder is in town. An entrepreneur put profit from a startup venture into redoing an office building as a business incubator. HIS money. He offers “co-working space,” lots of small spaces for low rents to beginners who might feed off each others’ ideas. It also has some private sponsors. It has a trendy coffee shop. It has a nearby transit stop. (Don’t tell Vice Mayor Lance Hines. What our tech parks needs is a freeway exit from a 16-lane freeway, if not a pneumatic tube to Lonoke. Why, really, would anyone want to come to Little Rock but for the freeways?) They seem enthused about it in Atlanta. We have some similar already cooking here. Maybe the fabled Tech Park will work the same way. But where’s the private interest?
I’m still not convinced buildings make new businesses happen. A garage worked pretty well in Silicon Valley. Ideas make businesses happen. Venture capital nourishes them and the venture guys expect many to fail in return for shares of big winners. Governments and taxpayers don’t have that luxury.
Some questions linger in Little Rock. Broadband is enormously expensive and the tech park is already borrowing money just for beginning real estate. Wet labs? They’ve been mentioned. Anybody have an idea what these cost? A lot. Anybody identified any venture capital ready to back our tech park’s tenants? Anybody identified a private investor of any sort?
I hope someone asks the Atlanta guru if he thinks bigger freeways that help crater local schools are the key to building the kind of “community” environment that attracts clusters of bright, young stars of tomorrow.