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GORP expands services statewide

Outdoor-centered, small business incubator GORP received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to expand the program’s services to businesses throughout Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas’ Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program is about to undergo a statewide expansion. The outdoor-centered, small business incubator received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to expand the program’s services to businesses throughout Arkansas.

GORP is a startup incubator designed to support businesses breaking into the outdoor recreation industry. The new statewide GORP AR program will target communities near four state parks that Gov. Sanders’ Natural State Initiative designated as Economic Opportunity Zones.

Those parks include Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Mena, Morrilton’s Petit Jean State Park, Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock, and the Delta Heritage Trail State Park in West Helena.

The state government is matching funds with the EDA grant. Now, GORP has over $2 million to grow the program. Phil Shellhammer is the senior director of business incubation for the greenhouse program. He said receiving the grant bodes well for the future of outdoor recreation in the state.

This doesn't happen without our state government stepping up and saying outdoor recreation is important for the entire state," Shellhammer said. "The Natural State Initiative work that was done earlier this year. And that council and the effort from our governor and all of the pieces that come into play, along with funding from the Walton Family Foundation for our current program, has allowed for this to work out timing-wise perfectly for us. And so we've got a really good program. We've got a state that's interested in really funding and supporting outdoor recreation, and now we've got a mechanism with this funding to be able to go and help entrepreneurs literally run our state. I think we're on the brink of, well, I hope we're on the brink of a much larger cluster of outdoor recreation companies forming, building and growing within the state of Arkansas."

GORP is already going strong in Northwest Arkansas. The program came about in the summer of 2021 after the UofA received a grant from the Walton Charitable Support Foundation to stimulate the outdoor industry in the region. The program just wrapped up working with its third semesterly cohort, and is now accepting applications for the spring semester. Shellhammer said news of the expansion has excited small businesses across the state.

"We've seen more applications up here actually from other parts of the state than we have in the past," he said. "So, our applicant pool for that cohort has actually grown quite a bit. But the truth is, it's awfully early for the individual pieces that we're going to do in these individual towns to have a lot of feedback. Next week I head down to the Little Rock area. And I'll be meeting with a couple of our partners down there to start that initial conversation. We've got a plan in place, we're right in the grip, and now we need to get to the brass-tacks details with, like, here's how it's gonna play out. And so we'll start those conversations as early as next week."

For more information about the GORP program, you can visit the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s website or check out our previous reporting on this semester’s cohort.

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Jack Travis is a reporter for <i>Ozarks at Large</i>.<br/>
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