The external sector

In 2013, Katherine Andrews earned a degree in finance from the University of Arkansas and went to work for the Hathaway Group, a commercial real estate company in Little Rock. Three years later, she joined the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which she described at the time as “the state’s sales team.”

Andrews has worked on economic development projects across Arkansas. She especially enjoyed working in small towns like Trumann.

“There was a company that was expanding their manufacturing facilities and they needed help with incentives,” she says. “It’s made a big difference to the people of this town. Sometimes I’m the only woman in the room, and it took me a long time to be able to confidently walk into that room and know what I was saying and watch. people in. the eye.I would encourage more women to come out and go after her.

Andrews’ first five years at AEDC were spent as a project manager in the business development division. In May 2021, she was appointed Director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development.

Getting after that paid off for Andrews. Last November, she was chosen to lead the state’s new Office of Outdoor Recreation. I believe this office will end up being among the most important parts of the state government. Indeed, Arkansas’ outdoor recreational features greatly enhance the state’s ability to attract and retain the type of talented people we need to succeed in the 21st century knowledge economy.

One who agrees with my assessment is Tom Walton from Bentonville. On the day of the announcement, Walton said, “With today’s announcement of the selection of Katherine Andrews to lead the new Office of Outdoor Recreation with a dedicated team, we will make Arkansas a great competitor in recruiting tourism, talent and industry, and of course, outdoor experiences that rival the best in the country.”

Smart youngsters experience our world-class hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, climbing, bird watching, kayaking, canoeing and other outdoor activities. Tom Walton and his brother Steuart are leading statewide efforts to improve these experiences to differentiate Arkansas from other states.

Andrews has a powerful board filled with Arkansas outdoor legends such as George Dunklin, Mike Mills and Bill Barnes. Governor Asa Hutchinson has tasked the office with leading efforts to “develop the outdoor recreation economy, work with partners to improve health outcomes, and promote awareness of the full range of recreational experiences that the ‘state has to offer’.

“Katherine is originally from Arkansan and an avid participant in outdoor recreation,” says Hutchinson. “These qualities combined with her experience in small business development and entrepreneurship make her a natural candidate for this role.”

Utah was the first state to create an office focused on outdoor recreation economics. Arkansas was only the second state in the South to do so, after North Carolina.

“The outward appearance of the job intrigued me,” Andrews says as we have lunch at Capital Bar & Grill in downtown Little Rock. “I loved working at AEDC. I consider these people like family. But I have become convinced that now is the time to develop the outdoor recreation economy. We want to see entrepreneurs emerge across the state. We want to be the office that connects the efforts of organizations like the Nature Conservancy, AEDC, and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.”

Andrews says that by breaking down the walls between these different entities, Tom and Steuart Walton’s vision will become a reality. She says she works to “uncover the barriers to growth in this sector of our economy and then find ways to remove those barriers.”

In the first four months on the job, Andrews drove 3,300 miles on his car visiting people across the state. She also looks forward to working with other states to see “what has worked and what hasn’t. We are only just beginning to fully understand the enormous impact the outdoor economy has on our state.”

Andrews hopes the office will conduct an economic impact study to spot trends and identify areas of opportunity. She also wants to complete a health and wellness study that will be used to educate the public about the benefits of outdoor recreation. Another goal is a website that will allow people to search for everything from boat builders to fishing guides.

“We will eventually have a job portal for those interested in working in this sector,” says Andrews. “We also need to create an outdoor recreation business alliance. That kind of coordination could really make a difference.”

A few weeks after having lunch with Andrews, I find myself having lunch in Fayetteville Square with Phil Shellhammer, director of the University of Arkansas Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, commonly known as GORP. The business incubator is a branch of the university’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The program is supported by a $4.1 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

Matt Waller, dean of UA’s Sam Walton College of Business, says the grant has helped the school create “an entrepreneurial culture around outdoor recreation.” The program will train entrepreneurs who focus on hospitality, service and experience businesses with a focus on outdoor recreation. It will also support outside industry product design and development start-ups.

Shellhammer was named head of that program the same month Andrews was named head of the state government office.

Shellhammer is originally from Ohio and earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked for companies such as Best Buy and Procter & Gamble before moving to Arkansas in 2009 to work for Sam’s Club. He becomes vice-president of the merchandising department.

In 2019, Shellhammer created two education-focused tech startups, Eksplor Gaming and Wize Computing Academy, which teaches coding.

Shellhammer says he was “drawn to help other entrepreneurs achieve their goals…Furthermore, I was drawn to the potential to drive significant economic impact for our region. The focus on recreation outdoors didn’t hurt either since many of the activities we target my personal interests.”

What is called the GORP Incubator will house a small cohort of companies twice a year. These startups will engage in a structured 12-week program with training and up to $15,000 per company in funding that does not require the business owner to give up their capital.

“This program intends to be a major catalyst for the success of these entrepreneurs and the positive economic impact they will create,” Shellhammer said.

He says his true love is helping other businesses succeed. Shellhammer views GORP as growing existing businesses in Arkansas, bringing in businesses from other states and creating new businesses.

“We can create innovative products and services here in Arkansas that enhance the existing outdoor recreational experiences offered by the state,” he said. “Once people come here to experience things like our rock climbing, some will stay. It just adds to our recreational infrastructure.”

He says entrepreneurs will learn from the state’s past successes, like that Arkansas is the home of the bass boat.

“We’re all about innovation,” Shellhammer says of GORP. “We’re all about taking ideas and turning those ideas into businesses. You can find incubators like we have in states like Colorado and Utah, but there aren’t many in our part of the country. “

With state government, the state’s flagship university, the Walton brothers, and visionaries like Dunklin, Mills, and Barnes all pulling in the same direction, Arkansas may be on the cusp of a a new era.

In a state where the economy was once dominated by cotton and then by attempts to land low-wage manufacturing jobs, who could have dreamed that streams, rivers, lakes, forests and mountains would be our economic salvation? ?


Rex Nelson is editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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