The Little Rock Technology Park, like many organizations, had to operate on the fly when the coronavirus pandemic shifted the economy into low gear earlier this year.
Before the pandemic hit in March, the 2-year-old municipal entity aimed at fostering technology startups was essentially full with more than 50 tenants filling out its 13,000 square feet of usable office space and employing more than 100 people.
A month later, it was scrambling to keep them. The park authority’s board offered deferrals of 50% for April and May rents in a bid to keep them.
It lost 10 tenants in the end, but it is slowly returning to its pre-pandemic rhythm. Among the companies to bolt was Ritter Communications, but the growing northeast Arkansas company needed more room.
Forty one tenants remain, but some of those have expanded, notably Alleviant Health Centers, which bases its corporate and telemedicine staff at the park. It is set to take over the entire fifth floor once another tenant vacates later this fall.
“It seems like they issue a couple of new access cards a week for new employees,” said park executive director Brent Birch.
Still others have moved into the complex.
Among the latest is IMI Mobile, a London-based communications software developer. The company is leasing four offices.
Fully 96% of the usable space is occupied, according to Birch.
Four offices are vacant, but a couple of prospects looking at them likely will sign leases this month for one or two of the spaces, Birch told his board at a meeting this week.
“All in all, good,” he said. “It’s a testament to our model we’ve been able to retain our tenants.”
That includes the startup vibe that tends to attract like-minded people, the expandable space and, not least, the high-speed Internet for “all those video calls,” Birch said.
And the tenants who took advantage of the rent deferrals have repaid them, he said.
The first phase of the park, a 38,000-square-foot complex, opened in 2018. The city promised the park $22 million of the proceeds from a 2011 sales tax, which will expire in 2021, to help pay for capital costs.
The tax hasn’t generated as much as estimated, and the amount the tech park will receive is now estimated at $20.7 million.
The expected tax proceeds enabled the park to borrow money to pay for the first phase of the park, designed to be a Silicon Valley-like business incubator.