Arkansas-based healthcare company OneHealth announced Thursday that it is buying the Heifer International campus as part of its plan with Lyon College to open veterinary and dental schools in Little Rock.
Heifer International will remain on campus, leasing space from OneHealth.
Officials from OneHealth and Heifer International declined to disclose the sale price.
Heifer International will remain on the third and fourth floors of its current building, while Lyon College will occupy the lower two floors. Hilary Haddigan, head of mission effectiveness for Heifer International, said the organization doesn’t need the space with many of its employees working from home.
Haddigan said selling their campus will help the nonprofit organization reduce overhead costs and focus more money on its mission to end world hunger.
“The sale of the Little Rock campus allows Heifer International to focus more of its resources on impactful programs that provide sustainable local solutions to end hunger and poverty around the world,” Haddigan said.
Once established, Lyon College will have the only veterinary and dental schools in the state.
Heifer first announced it would sell its campus in a press release on Tuesday, saying it gave the nonprofit more flexibility. In April, Lyon College, a small liberal arts school in Batesville, announced plans to open veterinary and dental schools and was looking for a location in Little Rock.
Melissa Taverner, president of Lyon College, said she expects dental and veterinary schools in Little Rock to begin classes in 2024 or 2025. The number of students enrolled in each program will depend on the accreditation process. , said Taverner.
Heifer said he will close his public education space in December after the sale of the campus is finalized. Heifer said he will work with the new management to provide an alternative public space.
Haddigan said Heifer will rework its office space to be more open and accessible for video conferencing, as many of its employees are based around the world and many of its local employees prefer their home office.
Merritt Dake, a founding partner of OneHealth, said he was interested in helping bring a dental school to Little Rock. OneHealth is a Little Rock-based company that helps healthcare providers find capital, office space and technology to help manage patient care and payment. OneHealth also supports “the launch of highly innovative and effective professional healthcare programs,” according to its website.
Prior to OneHealth, Dake was general manager of Rock Dental Brands, and he said he saw a need for more dentists in the state. Through mutual relationships, Dake partnered with officials at Lyon College and Heifer for the veterinary and dental programs offered, he said.
“We think it’s a great economic driver for the city of Little Rock and the state of Arkansas,” Dake said.
CHANGES IN THE HEIFER
The move marks a major change for the Little Rock-based nonprofit, which opened its $17 million campus in 2006.
The 94,000 square foot office served as a key anchor in Little Rock’s East Village, a former industrial area that transformed into a hip neighborhood after the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center and later Heifer’s headquarters International.
Heifer officials said they believe the sale will bring more people to the East Village because many of their employees are working from home. Dental and veterinary students and Lyon College staff will fill the gaps left by Heifer employees.
“This is an opportunity to bring a lot more energy and excitement back into space and it will also benefit local businesses,” said Chris Coxon, vice president of communications for Heifer International. “You’re going to see a lot more foot traffic here.”
Haddigan said the sale would not affect Heifer’s 165 Little Rock-based employees, saying the nonprofit is committed to not downsizing its Arkansas base. Instead, Heifer will rework its office space on the third and fourth floors to be friendlier for video conferencing and remote work.
“Little Rock and Arkansas are very important to us and I want to be very clear, we’re not leaving Little Rock, we’re not leaving Little Rock. We’re staying here,” Haddigan said.
Heifer International will remain at its Little Rock headquarters, but campus visitors can expect changes when new management takes over in 2023. Most notably, Heifer International will close its educational space on campus in December, according to Coxon. , a spokesperson for Heifer. Heifer said she will continue to own and operate her ranch in Perryville.
“The look and feel of the place will remain,” Coxon said.
Heifer’s outgoing chairman and CEO, Pierre Ferrari, wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in February that the nonprofit would reduce its footprint in Little Rock. Ferrari will step down in September after spending 10 years with Heifer.
“Like many companies in the state, our work has had to adapt to significant changes over the past two years,” Ferrari wrote. “As Heifer’s programs around the world have evolved, so has Heifer’s corporate headquarters.”
Dan West, a farmer from Indiana, founded Heifer International in 1944, as an organization that would fight famine, not by donating food, but by helping farmers become more productive, often by donating livestock. In 1971 Heifer moved from St. Louis to Little Rock and opened a ranch in Perryville.
FILLING A NEED
Arkansas ranks nearly last in the nation when it comes to the number of dentists and veterinarians per capita.
According to data from the National Library of Medicine, Arkansas had just 41.82 dentists per 100,000 people in 2019, ranked only ahead of Alabama. For veterinarians, Arkansas ranked dead last with just 14 vets per 100,000 people, according to veterinarians.org.
Currently, Arkansas is one of the few states that does not have a dental or veterinary program, which is why the state has relatively few dentists and veterinarians.
Arkansas is one of 14 states that does not have a dental school or college, according to the Commission on Dental Accreditation listings. Arkansas is also one of 23 states without a veterinary school, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences offers some dentistry programs but does not have a dental school.
In April, Lyon College announced it was scouting locations in Little Rock for veterinary and dental schools, with reports that the school planned to partner with OneHealth.
“Although vocational training and veterinary medicine have never been offered in Arkansas, our institutions of higher education throughout the state regularly prepare capable and dedicated individuals who must seek their training elsewhere,” said Taverner. . “Although some go home to practice, many young professionals choose to stay where they train.”
Like many colleges, Lyon College has seen its life turned upside down by covid-19. Declining enrollment prompted administrators to consider a merger with the University of the Ozarks, a private college also affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
Taverner said the school has shifted much of its focus to graduate programs, recently adding programs in education. For its dental and veterinary programs, Lyon College will wait for accreditation, which could take several years.
The accreditation process will ultimately determine when Lyon College’s Institute of Health Sciences begins classes and how many students it can enroll.