The 2016 Compass Conference will be held in conjunction with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday Breakfast, and will feature a panel discussion about the health and future of the regional economy.
The conference is held each year as part of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by Talk Business & Politics, and is sponsored in the Fort Smith area by Arvest Bank. The report is the only independent analysis of economic conditions in Arkansas’ three largest metro areas.
Friday’s (May 6) event will be held 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., at the Fort Smith Convention Center. Admission is $17.50. Contact Melissa Curry – 783-3111, mc[email protected] – to register or for more information.
Highlighting the conference will be a panel discussion about the Fort Smith regional economy. Panel participants are Tim Allen, Fort Smith chamber president and CEO; Mike Barr, CEO of WeatherBarr; Steve Clark, CEO of Propak Logistics; Judy McReynolds, CEO of ArcBest; and Clay Nickel, director of Investment Strategy for Arvest Bank.
Roby Brock, CEO of Talk Business & Politics, will moderate the panel discussion.
“It’s not often this depth of executive and business experience comes together on a panel. We’re proud to have worked with the chamber and Arvest on what should be an interesting and informative discussion,” Brock said.
The Compass Report for the Fort Smith area posted a C grade for the fourth quarter, better than the C- from the third quarter of 2015 but down from the C+ in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Although the region’s jobless number declined (5.1% in December 2015, compared to 5.5% in December 2014), the number of jobs were relatively flat. Non-farm employment in the metro area ended December at 114,200, down from 114,300 in December 2014. However, the number of unemployed moved in the right direction. There were 6,132 unemployed in December, down from 6,502 in December 2014.
Sales tax collections in the metro area were up slightly, with $4.292 million reported in December in four regional counties, up from $4.284 million in December 2014. The metro hospitality (tourism) sector returned to a growth trend. The sector had 9,100 jobs in December, better than the 8,900 jobs in December 2014.
Mike Jacimore, sales manager for Arvest Bank in Fort Smith and the River Valley Region, said bank officials are seeing clear signs of consumer spending.
“We are very pleased to see the Compass grade improve from the previous quarter, and we are hopeful the increased demand for mortgage and commercial loans we’ve seen over the past three months in the Fort Smith region is an indication consumers and business owners believe the economy is improving as well,” Jacimore said.
Jeff Collins, economist for Talk Business & Politics and the former director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said the Fort Smith metro will still struggle to maintain a growth trend through the remainder of 2016.
“Despite weak jobs data, the unemployment rate in the Fort Smith area December-on-December was down 0.4 percent. The reason for the decrease was a significant increase in the number of employed (2,309) relative to the increase in the labor force (1,939). … (T)he metro area economy is likely to struggle through the next four to six quarters despite the forecast for continued growth at the state and national level,” Collins noted.
BUSINESS EXPO, JOB FAIR
The chamber’s business expo and job fair will immediately follow the Compass Conference.
Also held at the Fort Smith Convention Center, the expo will have more than 85 booths and attendance – based on last year’s traffic – is expected to top 700. Chamber members and non-members are invited to attend the free event. The event begins at 9 a.m. and wraps up at 3 p.m.
“The Chamber’s 2016 Business Expo/Job Fair is going to be bigger and better this year. Each year the Chamber welcomes the general public to attend the event, especially if they’re in search of a new job. We’ll have dozens of companies looking for the right person for their organization,” Allen said. “Last year we had several companies tell us the event was very helpful in finding individuals to hire… they actually took job applications on the spot. Also, the Chamber Expo is a great place to show support for local businesses by shopping with local vendors. We expect to have over 800 people attend the Chamber event next week.”