Mildred J. Franco, an entrepreneur, business executive, project manager and the director of “The Generator,” an innovation hub for Pine Bluff powered by Go Forward Pine Bluff, discussed survey results regarding the hub at The Pine Bluff Small Business Luncheon held at Harbor Oaks on Wednesday.


The surveys were implemented due to a lack of data in determining the types of programs that will be best for Pine Bluff at this time and to identify all small businesses in the city


“We have received over 400 surveys, with 267 of them being completed in its entirety,” said Franco.


The survey was released at Southeast Arkansas College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as well as to the members of the Pine Bluff Small Business Association, which has increased from 40 members to 92 members since April.


The survey covered 14 areas and included questions regarding race, gender, the number of employees in small businesses, issues faced by small businesses, who has an interest in starting a small business, etc.


“More males own businesses than females, and more Caucasians own businesses than African-Americans,” said Franco. “In a city with over 70 percent of the population being African-American, we need to change that. We need to have an equal opportunity for everyone.”


The Generator, the innovation hub for Pine Bluff, is part of the Economic Development Plan of GFPB. Creators say the goal is to create a collaborative ecosystem through programs and partnerships to drive innovation, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment in Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas.


Franco is currently researching models and potential partners across Arkansas and the United States to present a plan about what the innovation hub will offer to this area.


“The innovation hub for Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas will take into consideration: the DNA of the city and the region, the needs of the community at large, and the sustainability issue, in order to ensure its success,” Franco said.


The idea is to enhance and to leverage assets already in the community, such as the Southeast Arkansas Arts & Science Center, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Economic Research and Development Center, and the Pine Bluff Public Library.


“Innovation hubs create collaborative environments, they enable innovators and entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life; they create a pipeline for them to mobilize their resources,” Franco said.


She explained the vision of Go Forward Pine Bluff and proceeded to introduce plans for the innovation hub.


According to GFPB, the vision is to make the city a place its residents are proud to call home and to create a public/private partnership that engages all residents in re-imaging the city through targeted projects, grants and initiatives aimed at transforming Pine Bluff into a regional center and point of destination for cultural activities, sporting events, educational opportunities, dining and historical museums, characterized by robust and sustainable economic growth, educational opportunity, responsive leadership and an attractive quality of life.


Additionally, another GFPB goal is to make the city “grow and go.”


GFPB will focus on: stimulating economic development through capital investment in revitalizing downtown and encouraging quality affordable housing; revitalizing city governance and promoting a positive image for Pine Bluff; creating a skilled workforce and raising academic standards and student performance; and, building a metropolitan community that offers residents an attractive, safe and healthy environment with a wealth of cultural, social and entertainment options.


The survey is located on the GFPB Facebook page as well as on the Alliance for Jefferson County’s web page, www.jeffersoncountyalliance.com.