Empowering Arkansas: The charge of JT Franklin’s vision in the lithium era

Posted on February 13, 2024
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By Viktoria Capek

When you think of a “mom-and-pop” shop, you probably think of the corner store with an old wooden door, weathered brick exterior and a faded sign above the entrance proudly displaying the store’s name, unchanged for almost a century.

When JT Franklin thinks of a “mom-and-pop” shop, he thinks of renewable energy.

A cargo freight container complete with indoor hydroponic farming—that is, growing fresh herbs and produce without soil by using water-based mineral nutrient solutions. Unlimited wifi available while you wait for your electric vehicle to power up on a DC fast charging station and around-the-clock service at the touch of a button—a vision of the 21st century.

He thinks of Franklin’s Charging Station.

The Little Rock and Hot Springs pit stops, dedicated to “fueling” electric vehicles akin to how a gas station serves its customers, has been leading the charge toward battery-powered transportation in Arkansas since 2017.

“When Tesla came to the market, I thought, ‘If this succeeds, it’s going to be a game changer,’” said Franklin from his workshop on South Woodrow Street, the first space the business owner purchased to house Franklin’s Charging in Little Rock. “I started ideating what I needed to do to try and get into that business.”

The former biology teacher and self-named “tree-hugger” valued a green alternative to burning fossil fuels for transportation. Plus, Franklin saw a need for electric vehicle charging stations in Arkansas, citing the southern United States’ often slow adoption of new technology and infrastructure.

“By the time the Teslas of the world have their installations all over Arkansas,” Franklin said, “we could already have our name out there and be a good partner for our customers.”

Seven years after launching the business, Franklin’s vision for his charging stations reflects a new wave of innovation in Arkansas, driven by the discovery of a globally significant lithium resource near El Dorado. This resource is the primary source of power for lithium-ion batteries.

“​​Every Arkansan has at least one device in their daily lives that contains a lithium-ion battery,” said Jesse Edmonson, director of government relations for Standard Lithium.

Right now, the U.S. faces challenges with battery component imports from China, including high costs and supply uncertainties. Edmonson highlighted this issue, noting the difficulty in obtaining parts due to opaque pricing.

“If the lithium industry successfully commercializes in Arkansas, this will require an investment on the order of several billion dollars and will provide several hundred new jobs,” he asserted. 

Shifting lithium production to Arkansas could reduce reliance on foreign imports, improve supply chain stability and potentially lower costs. This move not only promises economic benefits for Arkansas but also strengthens national energy security and sustainability.

It’s why state leaders are tearing down barriers to claim the coveted title of lithium state, even going as far as organizing a groundbreaking global summit solely focused on showcasing why nurturing the lithium industry in Arkansas is a strategic move for giants like ExxonMobil and Albemarle.

The inaugural Arkansas Lithium Innovation Summit is supported by figureheads in innovation and economic growth—such as The Venture Center—and designed to delve into topics in building vertically-integrated supply chains, ensuring stakeholder satisfaction and direct lithium extraction, among others.

Amidst all this buzz and expansion in lithium extraction, however, the spotlight Arkansas is basking in means little to small-business owners if they’re eventually overshadowed by corporate behemoths.

Yet Franklin stays unfazed, embracing expansion and expecting lower raw material costs for his charging stations. The lithium industry’s rise doesn’t have to be distant; it directly shapes the local business landscape, as well.

“It brings people to our area,” Franklin said. “Bringing these people that are experts in their fields, especially when it comes to lithium… that’s pushing industry forward.”

Offering battery-centric products and services will be integral to growth in the 21st century, according to Franklin. Arkansans who try to deny the impact of lithium extraction in the state or those who try to shy away from it will fall behind.

 “And they’ll suffer economically for it,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s “mom-and-pop” shop might not fit the mold of your typical corner market, but its heart beats just the same. He’s the jack-of-all-trades, tackling challenges and soaking in knowledge every day, eagerly waiting to see the impact his business will have on the community.

As excitement surrounding lithium eventually leads to shifts in the local economy, Franklin is optimistic that Arkansans will grasp the vital role of lithium resources to power their everyday lives.

“Let’s try to transition to new ways of doing things,” he encouraged, sensing the impending positive impact on his business.

“The more people that understand lithium, the better. Then, the more people that we can get to come and charge with us, the better we do… We’re all trying to get our learning curve up to par, and we’re going to try and serve our customers the best we can. So that’s why you’ve got to talk about things from the ground up. That’s what we’re doing.”


About The Venture Center

The Venture Center is a globally recognized Arkansas-based Entrepreneurial Support Organization (ESO) that helps entrepreneurs turn their start-ups into viable, high-growth businesses. By leveraging the expertise of a world-class team of mentors, intensive programming and introductions to the investor community, The Venture Center serves as an engine for economic growth in Arkansas and beyond.