Something For Everyone

Something For Everyone

Thanks to the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, makers across Northwest Arkansas have a space — with commercial-grade equipment — to encourage their tinkering. The NWA Fab Lab is 5,000-plus square feet of innovation and welcomes intrepid inventors, hobbyists and artists with open arms.

The concept behind Fabrication Laboratories — or “Fab Labs” — was born in 2009, when members of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms hatched the idea of making tools of digital innovation more accessible to the general public, thereby leveling the playing field for hobbyists and budding entrepreneurs who might not have access to expensive, powerful tools of mass production. Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Clark was introduced to the concept some years back when he toured North Little Rock’s Innovation Hub.

“I knew immediately that a similar organization — but distinct to Northwest Arkansas — would thrive in our region, and I believed our Chamber was just the organization to make that happen,” says Clark. “The connections in Northwest Arkansas’ efforts between innovation, start-ups, entrepreneurs, the arts, workforce development and the teaching of specific talents and skills for our present workforce needs were exactly the foundation needed to create the NWA Fab Lab.”

Clark saw his dreams realized when the Lab opened in August 2016. The organization started slowly, says director Whitney Green, as it accumulated the necessary equipment and rehabbed its basement space on Mountain Street, right off the Fayetteville square. Today, the space boasts computers, 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, laser cutters, a full wood shop, sewing machines and a 3D body scanner.

“We want to encourage entrepreneurship,” says Green. “We want to provide a space where people can make things, where they can get their business started — and, of course, we want them to keep their business right here in Northwest Arkansas and generate money for our economy.”

Clark says that, in less than two years of operation, the Fab Lab has already formed valuable partnerships.

“To date, we have created partnerships with the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, Fayetteville Public Schools, Fayetteville Virtual Academy, Haas Hall, the NWA Educational Cooperative, Northwest Arkansas Community College, AEP-SWEPCO, NWA3D, Northwest Technical Institute, the Clark Law Firm, Preferred Office Supply, engineers Jeff Koenig and Hugh Brewer, Sam’s Club #8209, the Amazeum and a host of dedicated volunteers.”

But you don’t have to be a part of one of those organizations to participate: Green says anyone who is interested in putting in a little bit of time and training on any of the equipment is welcome. A monthly fee of $30 for adults or $20 for students allows you to work on any of the equipment available at the lab during regular hours.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is, you can come and learn how to use this equipment,” says Green. “We also provide classes.” She was a technical novice herself before taking the position she holds now and says the Lab’s volunteers are excellent educators.

Green also points out that the Lab is great for hobbyists but serves several other important functions, as well.

“We’re trying to prepare students for jobs,” she says. “Not every kid is going to go to college and get a degree. Kids can come here and learn some skills that can take them straight to the workforce.”

Green says that several people have created prototypes that they hope will launch their businesses.

“There’s so much creative energy here, and so much to learn — and so many people to learn from,” she says. “Just a whole lot of positive synergy.”



NWA Fab Lab

WHEN — Mondays, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fridays 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

WHERE — 21 W. Mountain St., Suite 123, Fayetteville

COST — A monthly fee of $30 for adults or $20 for students

INFO — 521-1710, ext. 224

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