North Little Rock city leaders have long talked about developing the empty space on Main Street between 5th and 6th. Monday, a local tech company said it wants that space as its international headquarters and as the anchor of a big public plaza.
First Orion made the announcement during a ceremony on the empty lot Monday morning, joined by North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and Mike Preston, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
First Orion CEO Charles Morgan said he had looked for a while at sites in Little Rock, where the company is currently based, but found nothing that met both the company’s needs and budget. “We literally called the mayor up,” he recalled, “and said, hey, we’re thinking about possibly coming to North Little Rock. And he said, ‘Oh, have I got a deal for you!’”
First Orion is a software company that makes caller ID, spam-blocking, and fraud protection programs for cell phones. Morgan said it remained small for its first several years, but has grown recently from 12 employees to 115, the vast majority of whom work in Little Rock.
“You know, we go out to Silicon Valley and we try to recruit industry to come here and some of the tech jobs,” Preston mentioned. “Well, we’re growing our own jobs right here in Arkansas. And that’s a testament to this company, and to the companies around it.”
Smith believed a tech company such as First Orion would be a perfect fit to anchor the Argenta Plaza development. “I think the atmosphere,” he said, “that we’ve got in downtown Argenta is conducive to recruiting the educated and the employable like what they look for in their employees.”
First Orion’s office building will sit well off the street. In front of it will be a public plaza, with a fountain, benches, and a performance space. Current plans call for a five-story building with 60,000-75,000 square feet of office space. It will have enough room for 300 workers.
While First Orion has roughly 100 in Little Rock at the moment, Morgan expects it will have 180 by the time construction is completed, and he said reaching capacity could happen soon after, based on the company’s recent successes.
“We’ve got contracts with T-Mobile alone that will triple our revenue,” he stated.
Smith hopes Argenta Plaza is the capstone to the years of development that have reshaped Main Street and downtown. First Orion employees will get access to the plaza, and all the restaurants nearby, while the company provides some of its infrastructure to the city, as well. “We’re never gonna use the parking lot at night,” Morgan mentioned, “so it’s gonna be shared-use parking.”
Many nearby businesses are excited to have First Orion as a neighbor. They believe it--and Argenta Plaza as a whole--could have a big impact beyond their block.
“That’s probably the most exciting thing, is when they started announcing what all is gonna be there, that’s gonna bring so much more people down here,” said Michael Moore, manager of Altura graphics, “not just from the neighborhood, but everywhere, just to be down this way.”
Smith believes that, rather than mark an end to Argenta’s development, the plaza and the arrival of First Orion could mark the beginning of a new era of expansion. “It’s gonna put an exclamation point on our entertainment district and our neighborhoods,” he stated, “but it’s also gonna kickstart the new Argenta Business District.”
The North Little Rock city voted Monday night to allocate $4 million to build the public plaza. Construction on all of it is expected to begin Spring 2018.