ACHE, pilot training center support focus of Fort Smith Board meeting

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,453 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed items at the regular board meeting Tuesday (June 15) to support a planned new fighter pilot training center and the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education – two major economic impact generators in the region.

The board approved an ordinance amending the 2021 operating budget and authorizing the appropriation of funds from the available general fund balance to fund the city’s portion of the Ebbing Air National Guard Base Runway Project. The city committed $5 million toward a $22 million project to extend the runway at base by 1,300 additional feet. The $22 million dollar project is a collaboration between the state, which committed the other $17 million for the project, and the city for the new military mission.

The base was recently selected to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by counties participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

The pilot training center could have a $1 billion economic impact to the Fort Smith metro, according to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. The chamber reports that 345 U.S. military personnel would be part of the center and an estimated 180-plus members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents. Training and aircraft from Finland and Poland may also be part of the FMS site in the future.

The board also approved a resolution to waive building permit fees and construction inspection fees associated with renovation of the old Golden Living building at 1000 Fianna Way by the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE).

ACHE announced the purchase of the building in September 2020. The five-story, 318,000-square-foot building will house a health and wellness center on the first floor. The second floor of the building is being leased through February 2022 to Golden Living personnel, said Kyle Parker, ACHE CEO.

The third floor will be classrooms, while the fourth floor will house the “largest medical research institution of any osteopathic school in the nation.” Parker said the project’s initial investment will be around $20 million and will create between 30 and 50 jobs.

Parker told the board Tuesday that an economic impact study by HISTECON Associates with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock showed ACHE has added 445 new jobs since it opened, 175 of those with salaries of $160,000 annually. The report puts the economic impact of ACHE at $600 million, Parker said. That impact does not take into consideration the impact the graduates of the school are having and will continue to have on the city and the region, he said.

Although the city will waive fees for renovations of the Golden Living building, all incremental building and safety inspections will be required.

“Who would have thought 18 months ago that any of this would happen? And it all happened during a pandemic,” said Director Kevin Settle. “I want to tell all the naysayers, if you don’t like what Fort Smith is doing, you can go to another city because I’m tired (of the complaints.)”