{ business directory }

POISED FOR GROWTH

Fort Smith’s long-term economic stability, workforce and training, infrastructure, health-care options, educational institutions and developing amenities are listed as strong benefits when it comes to business recruitment and retention for the regional hub.

A long history of manufacturing, logistics and a military presence has helped shape the city’s workforce, with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 188th Wing playing key roles in technical training aspects for local employers.

“Fort Smith has several things going for it when it comes to what is attractive to companies,” Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, said.

Fort Smith’s economy has proven to be largely resistant to the “peaks and valleys” like many communities of its size, Allen noted. Fort Smith’s population is about 88,000, the second-most populated city in the state of Arkansas out of 541 cities.

“Yes, we’ve had bumps in the road, but over the last several decades we’re growing ... modest growth, but growing,” Allen said. “Companies that I’ve worked with like economic predictability and security. A mid-size city like ours has a lot to offer companies ... big city amenities with a small-town feel.”

Cliff Warnock, principal broker for Warnock Real Estate in Fort Smith, points to the community’s “conservative nature” in helping stave off deep dives in the local economy. Fort Smith’s real estate market, in turn, is “solid” and the regional hub’s economic growth has been “steady,” Warnock said.

“Fort Smith is a conservative community in general and with that conservative nature toward economic development it keeps the bubble from bursting when the markets change,” Warnock said. “People don’t overdo it when they’re able to.”

Warnock expects the year 2018 to be “a good year” for economic development and real estate.

PEOPLE POWER

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders said the presence of a large number of companies with a global footprint, like Mars Petcare and American Axle & Manufacturing, is a “very positive indicator” to a company considering Fort Smith.

“They see local companies continuing to invest, grow and expand,” Sanders added. “Many companies can also boast of the long-term commitments by employees, with significant numbers of employees with 30, 40 years service with their employees.”

State Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, represents District 9, which includes Fort Smith. Rice said the work ethic of his constituents is the best selling point for the area. He said it makes it easy for him to vouch for the local workforce when recruiting business.

“The workforce is stable and safe, with a large number of companies boasting of millions of hours with no lost time accidents,” Sanders added.

Sanders also noted the city’s “enviable transportation system, including interstate, rail, air and river.”

HOSPITALITY

While the hospitality industry has shown growth for Fort Smith in the past two years, the transportation sector continues to be the largest employer with corporations like ArcBest and ProPak Logistics.

Amy Knight Jones, convention and event sales director for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the addition of Home2 Suites on Phoenix Avenue boosted the local hospitality sector.

Several Fort Smith hotels have gone through recent renovations, including the new DoubleTree by Hilton downtown, Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn, all on Rogers Avenue. Fairfield Inn also opened on Phoenix in 2017.

EDUCATION & HEALTH

A talented and flexible local workforce with local training opportunities has become a dominant theme in the past several years as the Fort Smith business makeup shifted slightly from 18 percent to 15 percent of its workers in manufacturing. Allen said that work is being done with fewer employees with the assistance of robotics.

But manufacturing continues to grow too. The Chamber helped in enticing the following economic growth opportunities: the PRADCO expansion announced in November; a new manufacturing facility for Glatfelter; and a new plant for Silgin Plastic, which should begin construction later this year.

The education and health services sector, and local government sectors, is about 15 percent of the workforce.

Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, which has opened the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, has helped boost that sector by hosting at least 50 new jobs. The college welcomed its first class of 150 medical students in 2017. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences-West expanded its operation in Fort Smith in 2017 with a $10.5 million Family Medical Center next to the campus.

Training programs at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith are also tailored for the needs of local manufacturers like Baldor Electric Motors. Allen said in the past few years, Fort Smith is also being recognized as a good place for office sector jobs.

“We’ve been able to secure several projects like 188th Intelligence Mission, Shared Services Center, FFO Home headquarters and of course ArcBest headquarters to name a few,” Allen said.

Office sector projects require a different approach when it comes to economic development, Allen adds, because the companies looking to expand are usually looking for communities with strong K-12 education options, quality of place amenities like biking/hiking trails, the arts, high-end retail shopping and population diversity.

On the minds of many Fort Smith economic developers is the important need to retain a young workforce and recruit new people to the community.

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, medical facilities and the new Arkansas Colleges of Health Education are viewed by the mayor as a major part of that formula.

“To compete in the 21st century you must have a growing university and quality health care system,” Allen said.

“It’s really the minimum price of admission in today’s economic development world. Communities that are winning quality projects today must have both of these just to be considered as a potential location. We’re very fortunate to have both.”