Future Fort Smith calls for better city employee wages, better marketing

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,283 views 

The Future Fort Smith group told the Fort Smith Board of Directors that the city should consider better wages for city employees and a marketing slogan other than “Trailblazing Fort Smith.”

The group presented its annual report on the Future Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan at a board study session Tuesday night (March 28).

Future Fort Smith Committee Chair John Cooley told the board that Fort Smith looks different than it did 10 years ago and painted a positive picture of the city. He touted accomplishments of each of the city’s departments over the past year, including new inclusive playgrounds, the new transit buses, the Fort Smith Fire Department getting the highest ISO rating and the community’s positive impression of the Fort Smith Police Department.

Cooley also said there were areas that could use improvement. He said better wages for city employees would make the city more attractive to employees that could help fill the many vacancies in city departments. During the study session, Utilities Director Lance McAvoy told directors as of March 21, the Water Utilities had 43 vacancies (14.4%) out of 298 positions.

Cooley also said some of the members of the Future Fort Smith Committee had concerns about some of the city’s marketing, including the trailblazing Fort Smith slogan. He said the concern was the slogan limited Fort Smith as a Wild West town and the board had to be thoughtful of how the city presents itself.

Ashley Gerhardson, a member of the committee, said the slogan brings to mind “guns and gallows” and the negative associations of trailblazing with the Trail of Tears, which passes through Fort Smith. She said other marketing slogans could better promote Fort Smith’s future focus.

City Administrator Carl Geffken said the city has different marketing materials that have not been released yet and noted that trailblazing a new path is about innovation, which is a positive look for Fort Smith. The slogan provided to Future Fort Smith was “Arkansas’ Trailblazing City.”

The purpose of the Future Fort Smith Committee is to host periodic progress review meetings, review departmental reports before they are finalized by the Board, and show the community how the plan is being implemented, Cooley said. The Future Fort Smith Committee met seven times in 2022 hearing from city departments, Kyle Parker, president and CEO of Arkansas College of Health Education, Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown, and Michael Mings, the city’s mobility coordinator.

“In 2023, the Future Fort Smith Committee intends to focus on increased promotion and communication of goals, policies, and actions completed or in process. Additionally, the committee intends to promote the Comprehensive Plan to those responsible parties that are outside city government,” he said.

According to the city’s website, “The Future Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan is a document containing goals, policies, and actions that define and support a common vision and purpose. The Plan sets a direction that will be used by the City of Fort Smith to proactively manage future change.”

The plan was completed about eight years ago and the committee was put into place to make sure the plan was not forgotten. In 2019, the committee updated the plan’s completion matrix.