A Republican primary is already shaping up for the Arkansas House of Representatives seat (District 76) representing Fort Smith.
Fort Smith businessman and former educator Mat Pitsch announced Tuesday (Aug. 2) he will run for the Arkansas House seat, and incumbent Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, said he is planning to announce in September his re-election campaign.
Pitsch said Tuesday he is aware that Altes has won all his primaries, and often by wide margins. In the May 2010 GOP primary, Altes defeated former 188th Fighter Wing commander J.R. Dallas with 59.05% of the vote.
Pitsch said focusing on his experience and track record is part of his strategy to upset Altes.
“I’m going to focus on what I’ve done in terms of the job creation, the regional team building and using regional approaches to solve problems. It’s more about what I can bring to the Legislature than what anyone else has done or not done,” Pitsch said. “Our region has such potential, and we need people who can build coalitions and be effective and get stuff done on a statewide level.”
Altes sounded nonplussed when told of Pitsch’s entry into the race.
“Fine with me. I’ve had primaries before,” Altes said.
Pitsch said personally informed Altes of his intent to run.
“I made sure he knew that out of courtesy to him,” Pitsch said.
Pitsch, an engineer by training, first arrived in Fort Smith in 1987 to work for Whirlpool. After other manufacturing jobs in an out of the area, Pitsch returned to Fort Smith as president and CEO of McCourt Manufacturing. In 2001 he joined then Westark College and rose to the post of dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology. In 2006 he was offered and accepted the role of economic developer at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“During his tenure of recruiting industries to the area, he was able to coordinate the effort to secure 12 new industrial announcements to the region. The development of new factories ($600M in construction cost), new equipment ($400M), and nearly 3,500 new jobs took place during this exciting two-year period,” noted Pitsch’s campaign announcement.
Pitsch is now the director of the Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority, a governing authority managing transportation and logistic infrastructure improvements in Crawford and Sebastian counties.
Pitsch estimates it will take up to $50,000 in campaign expenditures to be competitive in the GOP primary. Altes said he spent about $60,000 in his race against Dallas.
The race will require Altes and Pitsch to campaign in northern areas of Fort Smith which are predominantly minority and often lean toward Democrats.
“It’s probably the most diverse district in our region. You have very wide socio-economic backgrounds in the district,” Pitsch explained.
Pitsch has no concerns about his ability to appeal to the diverse voters. Several years ago he gathered money to help low-income junior high and high school students in Fort Smith’s northside areas afford to play organized volleyball. The team is still active with the Fort Smith Junior Olympics volleyball organization.
“I saw that those ladies could not afford to play. So, for me, that became a private sector solution to a problem so those ladies would have that opportunity,” Pitsch said.
Below is the campaign announcement from Mat Pitsch.
Long time Sebastian-county resident, educator and business owner Mat Pitsch has officially announced his candidacy for the Arkansas House of Representatives (District 76). Pitsch is a fiscal conservative, small business advocate, and successful economic developer.
“I’m ready to represent the citizens of Fort Smith and Western Arkansas by making economic development a priority. With the resources and potential we have here, making sure that we are heard and represented in Little Rock is my number one goal,” said Pitsch. “We need someone in the State House whose primary concern is the citizens of Sebastian County, someone whose focus is on Regional Economic Development, and finally, someone who has a vision to reach our potential here in the River Valley.”
Pitsch began his career with the Whirlpool Corporation in 1987. Over the course of 15 years, he held positions with manufacturing corporations that took him and his family across the region and finally back to Fort Smith, where he was named CEO/President of McCourt Manufacturing. In 2001, Pitsch joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. Ultimately, he was named Dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology.
In 2006, he offered to take on the role of Economic Developer for the Greater Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. During his tenure of recruiting industries to the area, he was able to coordinate the effort to secure 12 new industrial announcements to the region. The development of new factories ($600M in construction cost), new equipment ($400M), and nearly 3,500 new jobs took place during this exciting two-year period.
In 2009, Pitsch asked to head up the Western Arkansas – RITA (Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority.) This innovative regional approach to building economic development infrastructure has built and strengthened coalitions from previously disjointed entities. Western Arkansas – RITA represents the citizens of Sebastian and Crawford counties, and the Fort Smith and Van Buren municipalities. Pitsch has helped guide RITA in their efforts to secure $65M in Interstate 49 funding, coordinate the upgrade of primary railroad track throughout the region, and focus the Corps of Engineers study for a new $15M slack water harbor.
“My hands-on experience running RITA allows me a unique perspective. The economic potential in Fort Smith and Western Arkansas is almost incalculable,” Pitsch continued. “We’re making phenomenal strides everyday but what the area requires is a clear focus from government on development and leveraging the power of the area. I-540, I-40, the continued growth of I-49, the Arkansas River ... we are smartly positioned to make the area an economic powerhouse that every resident would benefit from.”
He is currently the Chairman of Bethel Lutheran Church in Fort Smith and teaches as an adjunct faculty member at John Brown University. He has also served as a high school sports official for over 20 years. He has served the community by volunteering his time and talent on organizational boards for the Manufacturing Executive Association, Partners in Education, Arkansas/Oklahoma Rodeo & Fair Board, United Way, Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the Leadership Fort Smith Advisory board. In addition, Pitsch has graduated from Leadership Arkansas, Leadership Fort Smith, all three of the area’s Citizens Academies and served on the Fort Smith Adult Education Advisory Board.
Mat has been married 26 years to the former Seanna Fletchall and they have four grown children, two sons and two daughters.