Arkansas Science and Technology Authority (ASTA)
The Arkansas Science and Technology Authority (ASTA) was created in 1983. Its mission is to bring the benefits of science and advanced technology to Arkansas.
The legislation creating the authority was based on the growing interest in replicating the technology-based economies of Boston, Massachusetts; California’s Silicon Valley; and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. For most states, the justification for establishing mechanisms similar to Arkansas’s was faith that investment in science and technology would lead to the creation of high-tech jobs.
The first programs were implemented in 1986, and more have been added. The programs are grouped into three broad categories: research and commercialization, technology and manufacturing extension, and management services.
In the research programs, ASTA provides funds and technical support to researchers at several universities in Arkansas. Researchers are assisted in working with other agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), the latter of which is located in Arkansas. Commercialization involves assisting scientists, engineers, and technicians to bring their ideas and creations from the laboratory to a useful product.
In the management and technology programs, ASTA assists mainly small and medium-sized firms to improve product quality, increase productivity, and develop global competitiveness. An example of this type of assistance would be helping firms achieve their ISO 9000 registration, an international rating that signals to customers around the world that the firm can deliver very high-quality products.
The authority has a board of directors with fourteen members who give it a broad cross section of the state’s population and attitudes. Members represent scientists, educators, manufacturers, and other segments of the private sector.
An authority study, the “Arkansas Experiment,” found that seven dollars are returned for every dollar invested in basic research. Another conclusion was that Arkansas scientists are nationally competitive when given the kind of support that their peers in other states receive. Existing companies are solicited to invest funds in university-based applied research. The authority’s Manufacturing Extension Network, affiliated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, transforms Arkansas manufacturers into world-class competitors. The authority’s technology development and seed capital investment programs help entrepreneurs develop products and processes and create businesses.
Funding is also provided to schools to educate students to be “knowledge workers”—that is, workers with advanced skills and technical capabilities. ASTA also helps create jobs for knowledge workers, so they do not have to leave Arkansas to find employment.
Hundreds of firms have been assisted by ASTA numbers. Assistance ranges from arranging tax credits to grants and technical assistance. Firms that have received help include Alliance Rubber, Crane Kemlite, Corp., Innovation Industries, GENESIS Companies, Hall Manufacturing, Biobased Systems, Space Photonics, Nanomech, and Nanomaterials and Nanofabrication Laboratories. The “Arkansas Experiment” showed that technology- and knowledge-based economic development works well and compares favorably with more traditional approaches.
ASTA has discovered since its inception that science, engineering, and technology professions, as well as the resulting benefit of their work, are of primary importance to economic well-being. Many of ASTA’s programs were accomplished with financial help from or partnering with state and federal agencies. In addition to FDA and NCTR mentioned above, federal agencies include the National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DOD). At state level, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) was a partner. The private Acxiom Laboratory for Applied Research was a partner, and funding came from the Kellogg, Winrock, and Don Reynolds foundations. The Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 (Act 910) put ASTA under the cabinet-level Arkansas Department of Commerce.
For additional information:
Arkansas Science and Technology Authority. https://www.arkansasedc.com/science-technology/division (accessed June 15, 2020).
Barton A. Westerlund and Roger K. Chisholm
Little Rock, Arkansas
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