guest commentary by Michael Barr, president of WeatherBarr Windows & Doors, and 2015 chairman of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
At the 2015 Annual Meeting for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, I had the opportunity to address a crowd of over 800 and update them on some of the accomplishments from the previous year. In addition, we were pleased to have Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speak and deliver his message of progress for the state.
Wrapping up my tenure as chair of the Board gave me the chance to try and position those accomplishments in a larger context. Namely, the direction and progress that Fort Smith and the region have been slowly experiencing. People are always quick to latch onto a disappointing piece of news about a company downsizing or closing, and yes, those are truly disheartening. As both a resident and a business owner, I wince every time I read one.
But I’m here to tell you, Fort Smith is moving in the right direction. I see it every day. And the main reason we’re moving forward is because of leadership. Leadership within the business community by individuals who have reacted not by throwing their opinion around the room, but by rolling up their sleeves and opening their pocketbook (and that of their company) to pour time, effort and dollars into our community.
These leaders have set their sights on making Fort Smith the very best it can be. Whether it’s making the commitment to keep your business in Fort Smith; looking at a particular area and saying I can do something to make it better looking, sitting on a board and saying I can make this work better or even saying I can use the resources at my disposal and make a difference, Fort Smith has leaders.
Let me say that again, Fort Smith has leaders. Leaders like Ryan Gehrig at Mercy expanding operations, Dan McKay with Sparks making new capital investments, Judy McReynolds at ArcBest announcing their new corporate headquarters, John Taylor with the Degen Foundation, which is funding the new Osteopathic School of Medicine, Steve Clark and the nearly completed renovation of the Friedman-Mincer building as well as the Unexpected Mural Project, the Griffin family and their respect for our heritage and bold look to rehabilitating downtown, Lance Beaty and his team’s work on bringing the Masonic Temple back to life. This list is getting bigger and bigger each week.
My message to you: Keep it up. We’re making a difference. You’re making a difference.
In 2015, we saw announcements like:
• Mars Petcare Expansion
• Zero Mountain Expansion
• Dixie Cup Expansion
• The groundbreaking ceremony for the new ArcBest Corporate Headquarters
• The I-49 ribbon cutting for the six-mile segment through Chaffee Crossing
• FFO Home Corporate Headquarters
• Mercy, Sparks and Cooper Clinic investments total over $23 million in the community
While we are seeing encouraging signs of progress, there is still much work to be done.
We must continue to invest in our communities to attract young talent. Projects like trails and art/entertainment efforts all contribute to our overall quality of place and must continue. We must also create pathways, such as Leadership Fort Smith, to keep our young professionals plugged in to our communities to keep them engaged.
And we must empower our youth to take hold of their futures. Chamber leaders have continued to recognize the importance of education and the future leaders of our community by engaging students in Manufacturing Day, Partners in Education and the newly announced Fort Smith Junior Leadership Academy, which will begin in 2016 and make sure youth in Fort Smith realize that they have a future here waiting for them. Whether that’s in business, healthcare, education, manufacturing or other professional areas, making sure that our children feel like they can contribute to our community and that they can have fulfilled careers and lives is key to Fort Smith’s success.
If you haven’t considered joining the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, I urge you to do so. It will be worth your time. If you’re reading this and are from another part of Arkansas, consider Fort Smith for your business. You’ll be joining other leaders who understand that Fort Smith KNOWS leadership and business.