In Fort Smith, Leaders Building A ‘Post-Industrial' World

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 12:00 am  

“The local stores are what really continue to support the economy,” he said.

Sanders and Dingham said that not only would buying locally help, but a change in Internet regulations would, too. There is federal legislation that would force online retailers to collect sales tax that right now is the responsibility of the online purchaser.

Not surprisingly, many online purchasers do not fill out the paperwork to pay sales tax, Sanders said. The absence of that revenue stream is a hammer blow to local governments.

“That’s reality right now,” Sanders said. “We’re facing that right now. I think that is part of the shortfall. People are buying online right now and the taxes aren’t coming in.”

Steve Clark, the founder of ProPak Logistics, based in Fort Smith, is one area businessman who’s seeking to help propel downtown redevelopment. (See New ProPak HQ.)

The city’s recovery is a matter of the city fighting through the transition from a highly industrialized city to one that relies on a variety of industries, he said.

Richard Griffin, the chairman of the Central Business Improvement District, agreed with Clark.

“We’ve hit a hard bump,” Griffin said. “For 100 years, this was an industrialized city. Whirlpool had 5,000 workers five years ago. We’ve taken our hits. We’re a very resilient community. We’re not going to be a highly industrialized town, but it [economic recovery] won’t happen overnight.”

Sanders said the strengths that made Fort Smith a successful industrialized town are the same ones that will eventually see it thrive in a post-industrialized environment. The city has great workers and a great educational asset in the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, which gives companies a ready outlet to recruit and train new workers, he said.

Sanders said that when city officials meet with outside business leaders about the possibility of investing in Fort Smith, the city’s selling points are well-received.

“That has been one of the challenges, that people think ‘Oh, the economy is still bad and nothing is really happening,’” Sanders said. “When you stop and start to add up all the announcements, you realize we’ve added 1,000 new jobs. And it’s a nice blend of new companies coming in as well as old companies expanding.”

One of the important questions to answer — one Clark said he was interested in learning especially — was how long will it take for these new jobs to translate into local economic recovery. Some national economists, such as Bloomberg Brief’s Richard Yamarone, who spoke at the Business Forecast Luncheon in Rogers on Jan. 16, believe the national economy is still as risk for a slide back into recession.



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