Mayor Sandy Sanders on Why Fort Smith's Strength Not in Short Supply

Mayor Sandy Sanders on Why Fort Smith's Strength Not in Short Supply
Sandy Sanders
Mayor of Fort Smith

Edward Clinton “Sandy” Sanders III was elected mayor of Fort Smith in 2010. Before becoming mayor, Sanders, 73, served as executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority for six years. He was also interim president of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce and interim director of the Children’s Emergency Shelter.

Sanders was born in Cordell, Oklahoma, and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma. He came to Fort Smith in 1967 and worked for Whirlpool, retiring as human resources manager after 32 years.

Sanders has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2018.

Are you still optimistic about Fort Smith?
I have never not been optimistic about Fort Smith. This city has a long history of overcoming challenges. During World War II, Fort Chaffee was a huge economic engine. When it closed, the people overcame that. At one time Fort Smith was one of the leading furniture manufacturing cities in the world, and when that business died away, the city overcame that. In the last 10 years we have seen a significant loss of some manufacturers, but we overcame the Great Recession and continue to see existing local industries invest millions of dollars in expansions as they continue to add people to the workforce.

Our initiatives are directed toward economic development, keeping younger people and attracting families and new industries.

How did your business background help you as mayor?
I came into this knowing the challenges facing an organization with more than 900 people working to provide needed services for nearly 90,000 people. I’m no stranger to the budgeting process. I think I am able to consider the long-term impact of decisions aimed at solving immediate problems. My background includes working with city, state and national government leaders, and that continues. One of my key roles is to support the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce to attract new business.

After a long business career, why did you enter politics?
I was encouraged to run for mayor to focus on economic development. This coincided with my business experience, setting the groundwork for growth at the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority and serving as interim president of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce. Retired at that time, I had the time and background to help make a positive impact. Real public service starts at the local level, and has a direct impact on every resident.

What is the future of Fort Smith’s downtown? What are the opportunities there?
For some time downtown Fort Smith has been going through a major revitalization. “Build it and they will come” has occurred. Continued development is spurred by numerous renovations and improvements. New restaurants, shops and apartments provide the atmosphere millennials desire. Arkansas River access, multiuse trails and other amenities and leisure activities have brought new vitality. Tourism has already increased due to the Unexpected mural project and our Western heritage offerings.

Additionally, the opening of the U.S. Marshals Museum in 2019 will substantially increase tourism. The future is bright for downtown.

Is there anything holding Fort Smith back from sustainable economic growth?
Even with the growth of several companies and additions of housing areas, restaurants and the like, many people fail to acknowledge all the successes. We must believe in ourselves and show a willingness to work.

We enjoy a great long-term water supply, the largest solid waste landfill in the state with an expected 150-year lifespan, good and growing trails and parks and the best fire insurance rating. Our two outstanding hospitals make Fort Smith the regional health care center. We have an outstanding private sector contributing to quality of place initiatives and the revitalized downtown.