Northwest Arkansas is feeling an influx of people capitalizing on career opportunities through a number of major employers there — Walmart and Tyson are a couple of the big names — making it currently one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States percentage-wise.
With economic growth tends to come two things guaranteed: traffic congestion; and places to consume fancy foods and drinks. For anyone who’s spent some time in this part of the country, both these things are manifest in the commercial corridors connecting Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville through the rolling southern section of the Ozarks.
Mark Bray, the founder of the Bentonville-based roasting company Airship Coffee, welcomes what has clearly been an increased demand for quality coffee, yet suggests it has in some cases outpaced the coffee-related workforce. This realization has led to a creative coffee-focused partnership with Brightwater, a new culinary school associated with Northwest Arkansas Community College.
Through the partnership, which began this fall semester, Airship is coordinating Specialty Coffee Association-accredited trainers from around the country to teach Brightwater students, folding in the new SCA Coffee Skills Program for intermediate and professional certifications in Introduction to Coffee, Barista Skills and Brewing.
“Our region is experiencing extreme economic growth, which is great, but if you don’t have qualified workers — in this case, baristas — then customers are left with unmet expectations,” Bray told Daily Coffee News via email, adding that his daughter, SCA Accredited Trainer Rainy Bray, worked with Brightwater and SCA to incorporate the SCA curriculum into the school’s Beverage Management program. “The focus is on barista training. We see an enormous amount of potential to strengthen and grow the specialty coffee workforce here in Northwest Arkansas through industry-approved education.”
Bray said the company initially hoped to house the program at their Bentonville roastery, but that some required resources were lacking. “This was just about the time that Rainy was completing her SCA Acreddited Trainer certification, and simultaneously the new culinary school was opening,” Bray said. “One of the school’s objectives is to provide students with certification opportunities so that upon graduation they have marketable skills and credentials.”
In addition to SCA certification for students, Rainy Bray will also be leading Brightwater-hosted public coffee classes designed to engage curious consumers and home brewers. Those will begin next month.