Mid-year chamber report: $300 million in possible new biz investment

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 54 views 

About 400 gathered Thursday (July 15) to hear a Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce mid-year progress report that included the claim of more than $300 million in possible investments from new and existing businesses.

Cheryl Garner, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, highlighted the efforts of regional economic development groups to bring Mitsubishi and Oxane to the area, and help Allens Canning, Umarex and other companies expand in the area.

Oxane will initially invest $15 million in the plant and hire up to 50 by summer 2010. Expansion plans “anticipated through 2014” could bring an additional $32 million investment and total employment of 300. The facility is located on Industrial Park Road in Van Buren near the corporate headquarters of USA Truck Inc.

Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas announced Oct. 16 plans to build the $100 million, 200,000-square foot wind turbine manufacturing plant on 90 acres at Fort Chaffee. The plant could employ up to 400 once fully operational. Company officials said construction will start in the fourth quarter of 2010 and be complete by the fourth quarter of 2011. Mitsubishi officials expect full production and 400 jobs in place by the first quarter of 2012.

Garner said the chamber works on large projects like Mitsubishi on and smaller efforts like helping Louisville, Ky.-based Metal Sales Manufacturing invest $4.1 million in a Fort Smith operation that will employ up to 15.

The work continues, with a “nice pipeline of projects” that could bring $300 million in investments, Garner told the crowd.

Chamber President and CEO Paul Harvel said the chamber has raised $600,000 in economic development funds, but will need to raise more during a September-October campaign in order for the region to be competitive in the economic development game. He said the $50 million quick action closing fund available to Gov. Mike Beebe is often used to help recruit or retain jobs in communities that also have incentive money.

“That’s just the way it works,” Harvel told the crowd.

The chamber is hoping to raise $2 million for the economic development fund.

Jim Williams, a Mitsubishi Power Systems exec based out of Orlando, Fla., told the chamber crowd he is eager to get construction underway on the 200,000-square-foot operation at Chaffee Crossing. He said the plant will be a modern manufacturing plant capable of joining more than 32,000 precision parts so they form a 75-ton turbine nacelle for large electricity-generating windmills.

He said Mitsubishi has leased part of the former Town Club building in downtown Fort Smith and “intends to be a very active part of the community.” He also said the Mitsubishi operation at Chaffee Crossing and the dynamic of the windmill industry could provide “a lot of opportunity for expansion in Fort Smith.”

Williams only concern is with area transportation infrastructure, saying the 75-ton, 16-foot wide nacelles will need good roads to ship out of Fort Smith. To that end, he said Mitsubishi is interested in helping the region push for funding and completion of Interstate 49.

Following are other key points of the two-hour chamber meeting.
• Lea Taylor, owner of What If Creative, has been hired as a part-time executive director for the newly formed Fort Smith Regional Economic Development Alliance. The alliance, formed April 20, includes chamber and community leaders from LeFlore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma and Crawford, Franklin, Logan and Sebastian counties in Arkansas. The alliance received a $32,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission that will pay Little Rock-based Boyette Strategic Advisors to help develop and implement a regional economic development strategy.

• The Health Care Division has scheduled a new physicians reception for Aug. 31. The division is also researching the wellness plans of corporations and communities in the effort to create a “communitywide wellness culture,” said Division Chair Jason Green, who is also the human resources director for Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric Co.

• The Education & Quality of Place Division is again gearing up for the Christmas Honors project that places 12,000 wreaths at the Fort Smith National Cemetery. The wreaths will be placed Dec. 10-11, said Division Chair Philip Merry Jr. He also said the division is working to pull area arts organizations together for a combined application that could result in an up to $2 million grant from the Arkansas Arts Council.

• Sharla Lau, a Fort Smith Realtor and head of the chamber’s Membership & Marketing Services division, said the Total Resource Campaign has raised $340,000 — about$261,000 in sales and memberships and $79,500 in in-kind advertising and other services. Lau said the unique fundraising campaign to support chamber operations was so successful that a few chambers from around the country plan to copy the process.

• The Western Arkansas Legislative Gala will be held in Feb. 1 at Next Level Events in the old Train Station near the Capitol Building in Little Rock. The gala brings together the people and resources of at least 13 communities in Western Arkansas for the purpose of directly lobbying with state legislators for I-49 and other issues.