{ business directory }

GROWTH AND INNOVATION

JOHN LOVETT  // Times Record

A testament to Fort Smith’s business environment can be seen with the addition or expansion of several national and international companies in the past two years for more jobs with higher skilled labor.

Continued investments in Fort Smith from both private and corporate citizens — as well as a growing medical college and two award-winning regional healthcare systems — offer additional support in the confidence with the city’s business environment and commitment from its citizens to take Fort Smith to its highest potential.

Phoenix Investors LLC is investing more than $10 million to renovate and repurpose 1.5 million square feet of new businesses and warehouse space in the building once used by Whirlpool.

Investors and businesses are keeping an eye on the push for further development of Interstate 49 over the Arkansas River on the edge of Fort Smith. This will create a north-south interstate corridor that eventually can flow seamlessly from Canada to New Orleans through Kansas City.

Five Rivers has the newest intermodal port facility on the Arkansas River System and features two convenient ports: The Port of Van Buren and the Port of Fort Smith. A new intermodal port across from Fort Smith in Van Buren on the Arkansas River is also in the works. This new port will be part of 12-foot channel in the Arkansas River to handle larger barges made possible with the expansion of the Panama Canal.

With encouragement from the city’s 2018 passage of the first millage increase in 31 years, workforce development continues to be a top priority for the area by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Chamber, says workforce development funding is expected to help meet the growing demands of advanced manufacturing.

A $500,000 commitment by the chamber to a $1.3 million Walton Family Foundation grant for workforce development was announced in October 2018 at the chamber’s annual meeting. Thanks in part to a millage increase, officials in the Fort Smith Public Schools will be collaborating with the Chamber and local universities to create a technology center that is expected to help equip the next generation of workers with the skills needed in today’s technological environment.

Improvements in local amenities, such as an expanding trails system and health-care options, are also a key piece in the focus on retaining and recruiting top talent.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has also made it a state priority to teach students computer programming to help prepare the state for its future.

Some of those students will go on to help boost Fort Smith’s long and strong history in manufacturing. Continued training programs, in association with growing local educational institutions, like the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Vista College, UAMS, Arkansas College of Health Sciences and Arkansas Tech University-Ozark show a concentrated effort for businesses and educational instituions to partner and stay on top of the latest technologies.

The total gross domestic product for the Fort Smith region from 2014-2017 is $8.9 billion and per-capita personal income for Fort Smith residents has continued to grow.

One Fort Smith-based company in particular, ProPak, has become both a downtown technology center and innovation hub with regular events that appeal to coders” like “hackathons,” and business pitch contests for regional entrepreneurs.
The national logistics company has hired 24 software developers in the past two years to write programs specifically for the demands of its customers. All of it happens out of a 110-year-old building that overlooks a downtown with forward momentum on revitalization.

Downtown, what many here recognize as the “heart of the city,” has become one of several local “Opportunity Zones” designated by the governor to receive special tax benefits. Downtown also has been rezoned to allow for small-scale industrial uses and is expected to see the economic benefits of the forthcoming U.S. Marshals Museum.

On the east end of Fort Smith at Chaffee Crossing, former military land was donated to the cities of Fort Smith and Barling. These 7,000 acres have been developed into growing resource for business and education.

The redeveloped land is surrounded by upscale residential neighborhoods dotted with commercial resources throughout. In addition to an extensive trails network, this area is now the home of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. A Warehouse District also is taking shape out of World War II era warehouses.

A few of the Chamber’s recent successes in economic development have taken place at Chaffee Crossing.

ArcBest, an international logistics company, opened its new $31 million, 70-acre corporate headquarters in the spring of 2017. About 800 people work there now. It has room for about 1,000. ArcBest has hired more than 400 of the 1,000 new positions that were expected to be created with the business expansion.

Glatfelter, the Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of specialty papers, set up shop last year in a 200,000-square-foot unused building in the middle of Chaffee Crossing to become one of the latest corporate additions to the city.
The global company invested about $90 million to a repurpose the building which had been built by Mitsubishi for windmill power generators.

Glatfelter repurposed it to create its first “airlaid” materials facility in the U.S. and about 80 high-tech jobs where the average salary is about $27 an hour.

Glatfelter CEO Dante Parrini said in June 2018 with the grand opening of its Fort Smith facility that after an “exhaustive search” across the U.S., “it became evident that Fort Smith had everything we were looking for.”

Chris Astley, senior vice president of Business Unit president for Advanced Airlaid Materials, also said at the grand opening “Fort Smith has more than exceeded our expectations. We have every intent to grow here.”

Missouri-based Silga Plastic Food Containers Corp. has built a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Arkansas 45 with the ability to create up to 150 jobs.

Mars Petcare is another Fort Smith success story, showing continued expansion with several lines of pet foods. Over the past three years, Mars Petcare in Fort Smith has invested $122 million and created more than 255 new jobs.

The Chamber has seen successes throughout the community, from downtown to the north side and east Fort Smith. Several Fort Smith area manufacturing facilities have seen expansions or additions over the past two years that have added more than 600 jobs to the local workforce.

In addition to Mars Petcare, other local businesses that have expanded or moved to Fort Smith in the past two years include Pernod Ricard, PRADCO, Midwest Automation & Custom Fabrication, Bekaert and Applied Process.

Custom Fabrication and Engineering, a steel manufacturer in Fort Smith, and Midwest Automation in Arkoma, announced their merger in June with an expectation to create 85 new jobs.

PRADCO, makers of YUM fishing lures and Thill Floats, has added about 70 jobs at its Fort Smith facility since Jan. 1 for a total of about 200 jobs.

They also added 25 jobs last year, and about 80 jobs were added between 2014 and 2017 at PRADCO in Fort Smith.
Bruce Stanton, vice president and general manager of PRADCO — Fishing, noted some of their largest customers like Walmart and Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have “significant commitments to buying YUM (soft plastics) and Thill (balsa floats)” made in Fort Smith.

The company has invested more than $2 million in 16 new molding machines and a 13,000-square-foot production facility.