Arkansas Research Alliance to host annual State Science Technology Institute

February 17-23, 2020

By Victoria Mays 


Going on its 12th year of operation, the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) is doing pivotal work within the state to propel Arkansas forward and give it a national spotlight in the research and science community. 


ARA’s ultimate goal is to bridge university research and economic development by recruiting and supporting esteemed researchers. ARA’s Scholars and Fellows program provides grant funding to the state’s researchers in partnership with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) and five major research universities in the state, including the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Arkansas State. 


Research includes nanomaterial bone regeneration technology that can significantly accelerate the healing of various bone ailments; advanced phenomics techniques that help farmers meet the daunting challenge of climate change; nanoscale surface engineering that dramatically increases the lifespan of artificial hips and helps make boat hull glide through water; and social media analytics that track terror propaganda and counter disinformation campaigns. 


“We wanted to be a conduit between all of those schools to create collaborations and connections to where important work could be done,” said Jeremy Harper, who is the communications director for the university research group. ARA also helps schools “bring in people from other places,” he said. In December 2019, they inducted Teresita Bellido, Ph.D., and Justin Zhan, Ph.D., into the ARA Scholars program. Dr. Bellido served as a tenured professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Indiana University and Dr. Zhan served as a professor and Director of Big Data Hub for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 


As ARA scholars, Dr. Bellido and Dr. Zhan will receive a $500,000 grant paid over the course of three years towards research in their respective areas. ARA Scholars’ current research includes drug development, stem cell research, cutting edge membrane technology and much more. The ARA Fellows program supports distinguished researchers with an established history of impact. They must be currently working at one of the five research universities and is awarded a $75,000 grant paid over three years. 


On Feb. 10-11, ARA hosted the 6th annual Arkansas Bioinformatics Consortium (AR-BIC), which bought nearly 250 researchers, students, and government officials to North Little Rock. This year’s theme was Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and applications in Arkansas. A broad concept introduced in the 1950s, AI focuses on training machines to think and behave like humans. AR-BIC 2020 focused primarily on presenting the basic concepts and methodologies of AI in areas of biomedical research,  food safety, drug discovery and development, and clinical settings. AR-BIC also created space for networking and collaborations by allowing researchers to put together posters to explain their work. 


This October, ARA will host the State Science Technology Institute (SSTI), a nationwide organization that deals with finding ways that states and organizations can better commercialize their science and research and find funding and support in order to have a greater economic impact in the state. Hosted in Salt Lake City last year, the conference is expected to help “cement the state’s place in the scientific community,” said Harper. 


SSTI will focus on “Creating a Culture of Change” and is expected to bring over 300 scientists, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners across the nation who are looking to exchange ideas on how to create a better future through science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Some topics include increasing capital access, leveraging higher education’s role in regional experiences, advocating for better innovation policy and measuring economic development initiatives. 


While Arkansas is expanding and gaining recognition in the science and technology sphere, ARA will continue to “build unity behind discovery and research,” Harper said. 


Founded in 1996, SSTI offers information and services that are needed to succeed in today’s innovation economy. The national nonprofit based in Westerville, Ohio, strives to maximize the capacity of its members to deliver successful outcomes within the context of the complex innovation communities in which they participate.


In landing the prestigious annual conference, ARA said it brought together a group of 16 sponsors comprised of fellow SSTI members Startup Junkie and the Walton Family Foundation. The Conway-based public-private partnership, whose board of directors is comprised of Arkansas business leaders and the chancellor from each of the state’s five research universities, also received support from several Arkansas corporations and the public sector, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson.


“Arkansas’ future is a knowledge-based economy,” said Jerry Adams, President and CEO of ARA. “The SSTI conference will shine a light on the modern Arkansas that leverages intellectual capital, advanced research, and collaboration to achieve this vision for the future of our state.”  




IRS: Recent federal tax law changes will impact Arkansas nonprofits, all U.S. tax exempt organizations


By Daily Record Staff 


The Internal Revenue Service recently alerted all tax-exempt organizations in Arkansas and across the U.S. that recent tax law changes that might affect them. The forthcoming changes for the upcoming tax season include new rules enacted under the provisions of the Trump administration’s $1.8 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017 and the newer Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in December.


In the recent notice on Jan 30 IRS officials said several provisions may apply to tax-exempt organizations’ so-called 990 tax filings in current and previous tax years. They include:


Repeal of “parking lot tax” on exempt employers


This legislation retroactively repealed the increase in unrelated business taxable income by amounts paid or incurred for certain fringe benefits for which a deduction is not allowed, most notably qualified transportation fringes such as employer-provided parking. Previously, Congress had enacted this provision as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, effective for amounts paid or incurred after Dec. 31, 2017.


Tax-exempt organizations that paid unrelated business income tax on expenses for qualified transportation fringe benefits, including employee parking, may claim a refund. To do so, they should file an amended Form 990-T within the time allowed for refunds. 


Tax simplification for private foundations


The legislation reduced the 2% excise tax on net investment income of private foundations to 1.39%. At the same time, the legislation repealed the 1% special rate that applied if the private foundation met certain distribution requirements.


Exclusion of certain government grants by exempt utility co-ops


Generally, a section 501(c)(12) organization must receive 85% or more of its income from members to maintain exemption.


Under changes enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, government grants are usually considered income and would otherwise be treated as non-member income for telephone and electric cooperatives. Under prior law, government grants were generally not treated as income, but as contributions to capital.


The 2019 legislation provided that certain government grants made to tax-exempt 501(c)(12) telephone or electric cooperatives for purposes of disaster relief, or for utility facilities or services, are not considered when applying the 85%-member income test. Since these government grants are excluded from the income test, exempt telephone or electric co-ops may accept these grants without the grant impacting their tax-exemption. This legislation is retroactive to taxable years beginning after 2017.


The IRS also recently alerted nonprofits that the Taxpayer First Act enacted in the summer requires tax exempt organizations to electronically file information returns and related forms. The new law affects tax exempt organizations in tax years beginning after July 1, 2019.    


The following IRS forms are included in the mandate:

• Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.

• Form 990-PF, Return of Private Foundation or Section 4947(a)(1) Trust Treated as Private Foundation.

• Form 8872, Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures.

• Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income (if filed by a Section 501(d) apostolic organization).


Those who previously filed paper forms will receive a letter from the IRS informing them of the change. Filing deadlines vary by form type. The IRS will postpone the required e-filing of Form 990-EZ for one year, while optional e-filing continues to be available. Although Forms 990-T and 4720 will come under the e-filing requirement next year, the IRS will continue to accept these forms on paper pending conversion to electronic format.


PHOTO CAPTIONS: (Photos provided)


Arkansas Research Alliance to host national science conference in October.