AMPed Up Entrepreneurs People

The Five: Innovation

Erica Sweeney
Written by Erica Sweeney

April/May 2016 Issue

AMP asked five industry leaders from around
Arkansas the same question: How does
your industry foster innovation and
entrepreneurialism? Here’s what they said.

Bill Roachell

Chapter President
Associated Builders and
Contractors of Arkansas

Construction is one of the fastest-growing industries in Arkansas and nationwide. To keep up, the industry must embrace technology, foster entrepreneurialism and educate the next-generation workforce, said Bill Roachell, chapter president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Arkansas.

Between now and 2022, 1.6 million new skilled construction workers will be needed nationwide. In Arkansas, Roachell said his organization works with high school and two-year college faculty to educate students about construction as a career path and train those choosing to enter the field. 

“Construction is among the few industries where someone can enter the industry as an apprentice or trainee and be paid to further their career without accruing a ton of student loan debt,” he said.

The industry has also always fostered entrepreneurialism, Roachell said.

“The stereotypical construction entrepreneur starts off with a single pickup truck, an appetite for success and a willingness to live with some financial risk,” he explained. “As he does more work, word gets out, he buys a second truck, adds a helper and grows.”

Technology, including energy-efficient building practices, is another area that he said has been embraced by the industry.

“You’re seeing folks now that are out on job sites walking around with iPads,” Roachell said. “They’re able to get instantaneous information back to their office. The advent of technology and the iPad has really helped the construction industry.”

Unlike in years past, today’s construction education focuses on energy efficiency and sustainability, something Roachell said he sees embraced among younger generations in the industry.

“I love the millennials coming into the industry,” he said. “They’re tech savvy and really embrace the [sustainability aspect] and we have improvements.”


Natalie Ghidotti

President and CEO
Ghidotti Communications

The very nature of public relations — fast-paced, media-centric — means that it must respond well to innovation, said Natalie Ghidotti, president and CEO of Ghidotti Communications in Little Rock.

Though there are skills, like independence and resourcefulness, that are essential to success in the industry, it’s how they are applied to a specific client or campaign in the quickly changing world of media that matters most, she said.

“We have to be more nimble and flexible and open to working with other industries to create successes for our clients,” Ghidotti said. “Everything is so real time.”

While strong writing skills remain important, having a good grasp of social media, including understanding the various platforms and how to engage with them, is a much-needed skill in public relations today, she said.

In recent years, content marketing and influencer marketing, which marry public relations and marketing, have become big trends in the industry, and Ghidotti expects it to continue.

“It’s all an integrated approach,” Ghidotti said. “It’s not just media relations or an event; it’s how to pull in influencers. It’s the evolution of influencer marketing and social media being tied to tried and true public relations.”

Mentorship is also important in public relations and particularly helps small firms respond to innovation. Ghidotti said entrepreneurs in the industry are much more prevalent than large firms.

“Our industry really does foster mentorship,” she said. “You get the basics in school, but there are so many things in this industry that you would never know unless you were in it and on the ground. There’s a lot to be learned from others who have forged the way.”


Doug Carter

President
Mid-America Truck Driving
School Inc.

What intrigues me about the trucking industry is the innovation that is required in order to have some degree of success in this career field,” said Doug Carter, president of Mid-America Truck Driving School Inc. in Malvern.

“You constantly have to be looking for and finding new and better ideas and ways of doing things in order to survive and be successful in this industry.”

Carter has been in the trucking industry since the early 1980s, first as a driver, then an owner-operator of a trucking company, and now an educator. Through the years, the industry has experienced many changes, including in the required driving and resting times, and, most recently, use of electronic logging devices.

But, he said, most innovations in the industry have created equality among carriers, both large and small.

This year, the school began partnering with the University of Arkansas Global Campus in Rogers and Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale to address the nationwide truck-driver shortage, estimated to be 35,000 to 40,000 drivers nationally and 400-700 in Arkansas.

The partnership is a five-week Commercial Drivers License Program that combines classroom and behind-the-wheel training. The program is targeting women, veterans and Hispanics, Carter said, and aims to raise awareness about trucking as a career and reduce barriers to training through scholarships and accessibility to enter the industry.

“Fostering innovation starts with the attitude that we bring to the table,” Carter said. “That attitude is one of encouragement, increased awareness and partnering with fine institutions.”


MikeMills-2Mike Mills

Owner
Buffalo Outdoor Center

When it comes to responding to innovation, Mike Mills said the tourism industry is at the forefront. And, that’s especially true for small businesses in the industry.

Mills founded the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca in Newton County in 1976 and currently serves on the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission.

“We’ve constantly been looking for what’s the next move to add entertainment value,” he said. Over the years, Mills said he has constantly added attractions to his center, including cabins and a zip line.

Mills said he recognizes that his resort may be someone’s first taste of Arkansas, so making a good first impression is key. He ensures his front desk staff has a good grasp of this.

“Tourism can introduce a lot of people to Arkansas and lead to economic opportunities here,” said Mills, who still serves as president of the company, while his son-in-law runs the day-to-day business.

The internet and social media have had a major impact on the industry. These tools “leveled the playing field,” Mills said, allowing small resorts to compete with much larger ones. While he said affording advertisements in Southern Living or other big magazines is difficult for small businesses, promoting the business daily via social media has been extremely beneficial because it allows for direct interaction with clients.

The next phase is capitalizing on today’s tech-savvy society and locking in the next generation as a client base. 

“We are becoming aware of our outdoors,” he said. “It has to do with when you’re in a high-paced world, when you go outdoors, there are a few hours of just total relaxation of not worrying about what the phone or computer says.”


DanCurtis-2Dan Curtis

Senior Manager
Manufacturing Solutions,
Arkansas Economic Development Commission

The Manufacturing Solutions section of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission helps manufacturers of all types take their visions into the future, said Dan Curtis, the agency’s senior manager.

This involves focusing on growth and innovation, leadership development, tools and training, and sustainability, he said, explaining that a company’s specific needs depends on the type of manufacturing. But no matter the specifics, innovation involves identifying new technology and processes.

“If you want to be successful, you need to develop continuous improvement and an innovative mindset,” Curtis said. “Innovation is identifying meaningfully unique solutions to problems and [creating] opportunities. You’re developing a solution with significant benefit that stands apart from anything out there.”

He said what’s most needed in Arkansas manufacturing is more qualified employees. Part of the challenge lies in changing the perception of manufacturing and raising awareness that it is a high-paying, highly skilled career.

Curtis said his organization, which is under ADEC’s Existing Business Resource Division, works with high schools, colleges and universities to educate students about the potential of a manufacturing career. Another program is Manufacturing Day in October, where the group engages in educational and awareness-raising efforts.

Exporting and technology are other avenues that will take Arkansas manufacturers into the future, both areas where the agency provides guidance. Curtis said 80 percent of local manufacturers’ market growth is outside the state and even outside the country, but he said many do not export.

“What companies need to be thinking about if they want to stay healthy and be successful and really lead moving forward is being aware of what technologies are out there that need to be part of their business strategies,” he said.

About the author

Erica Sweeney

Erica Sweeney

Erica Sweeney is the former editor of AMP. She now works as a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock.

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