EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in the Oct. 2 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
When Jim Petty left his position as chief financial officer of ERC Properties in 2008, he said he had a peace about him. He left to focus on his residential development company in the midst of an economic recession.
“I put it in God’s hands,” he said. “It turned out for the better because I put it in God’s hands.”
Petty, who is president and CEO of Strategic Realty, recently started investing in downtown Van Buren as a way to give back to the community. His work to develop and restore downtown is a side project to his affordable housing business, which he had established in 2007 before leaving ERC.
“We’ve got a lot of positive things going on in Van Buren,” Petty said. “We think it can be a nice destination-type area.”
Petty recently told Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal he is investing about $800,000 to $1 million to renovate the old Cottage Café into the third Pasta Grill restaurant in Arkansas. Petty, who owns the 15,000-square-foot building next to Chapters on Main Bookstore, said the Italian restaurant should open in December.
Next door, but within the same building as the restaurant, will be gourmet popcorn store What’s Poppin’. Below Pasta Grill is space for another business, possibly another restaurant.
Petty is also working to establish a food truck court adjacent to Veterans Park and is investing between $100,000 and $150,000 in the project. He hopes to have a variety of food trucks, serving ice cream, Mexican and Asian foods.
“We don’t have any food truck courts,” he said. Downtown has two restaurants now.
Petty, who is 52, was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 2004. At the time, he was chief financial officer for ERC Properties and had just won Outstanding CPA in Business and Industry from the Arkansas Society of CPAs. He said he’s still involved with the organization, having served as its president for one year. He also served a three-year term on The American Institute of CPAs.
He was a CPA for BKD LLP in Fort Smith for five years before he started working for ERC. “I keep my license active,” Petty said.
He worked for ERC for 16 years and developed an interest in becoming a developer while president of ERC Development Group. He remained involved in the development side of the business as chief financial officer.
Petty said he works in residential real estate because of the impact it has on people. He recalled a woman who started to cry tears of joy when he handed her the keys to her new home. “We’re making a difference,” he said.
Strategic Realty has 20 employees, built 20 developments and manages them. The majority of the company’s developments are along the Interstate 40 corridor in rural Oklahoma and Arkansas. The company partners with housing agencies and nonprofit organizations on the developments. In Van Buren, it will soon start construction on 30 homes in the second phase of a housing project. In West Memphis, it will renovate a 72-unit apartment complex.
In 2013, the company started construction and management segments. Previously, ERC had provided construction for the developments. “We wanted to start out slow,” he said. The business has an annual revenue of between $6 million and $8 million, and has started to look at managing other properties as a third party.
He considers his ability to work with good people, like Rod Coleman of ERC, and to have good relationships as the highlight of his career. He expects to continue to work in the affordable housing business and to be involved in downtown Van Buren projects.
Petty, who has lived in Van Buren since 1995, is serving his second two-year term on the Van Buren City Council and is chairman of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce. He supports the Boys & Girls Club and is active in his church, First Baptist Church Van Buren.
Petty and his wife Janet have been married for 33 years, and he his daughter, Hannah, have been training to run a marathon.