Location, Workers Key to Fort Smith's Economic Growth

by Robert Bell  on Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 12:00 am  

Manufacturing towns tend to take some knocks in an economic downturn, as production slows down and employers shed jobs. Fort Smith is no exception.

But while the recession has been tough, the area's civic and business leaders are focused on attracting new employers and helping existing ones thrive.

"We're a manufacturing community mainly, and when sales are down, manufacturing is down," said Paul Harvel, executive director of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

(Click here to read about new manufacturers starting up at Chaffee Crossing.) 

In 2010, some employers in the region - including Trane, Southern Steel & Wire and Rheem - announced layoffs. But there was good news as well, as several high-profile projects broke ground and expansions at existing companies were announced.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. recently broke ground on a $100 million wind turbine manufacturing facility that could eventually employ 400. Umarex USA, which makes and imports air guns and has been in Fort Smith for several years, opened a new headquarters and distribution facility. The site will eventually phase in manufacturing and could triple its employment within three years to 120.

This summer, Oxane Materials Inc. of Houston, Texas, opened a plant in nearby Van Buren that makes materials used in natural gas extraction. The $15 million facility will employ 50 people initially and could expand to as many as 300 employees within a few years.

Nestlé Nutrition announced in July a $90 million expansion of its Gerber baby food facility in Fort Smith that will add about 50 jobs by September 2012.

And Harvel said chamber executives know of four existing employers in the region that are planning a combined $200 million in expansions in the next few years. He could not disclose any names, but he said he was confident the expansions would occur, although the timing will depend on the pace of the overall economy.


New Mayor

Fort Smith voters just elected the city's first new mayor in 20 years. Sandy Sanders worked for 32 years at Whirlpool Corp., was director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority for several years and served a brief stint as interim executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.