Efforts at a third attempt to create a regional economic development alliance in the Fort Smith metro area are “moving along nicely,” according to Rob Ratley, Arkansas manager for OG&E and chairman of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce Economic Development division.
Ratley and Chamber President Paul Harvel began meeting earlier this year with chamber and community leaders in cities and chambers in LeFlore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma and Crawford, Franklin, Logan and Sebastian counties in Arkansas.
Those meetings resulted in a key April 20 gathering in which regional leaders approved an alliance that gave all member cities two votes. The regardless-of-size voting structure helped convince smaller communities in the area that the alliance would not be dominated by larger towns, Ratley said.
On May 3, an executive committee for the alliance was formed, with Harvel serving as the interim executive director in addition to his chamber duties. Also on the executive committee are:
• Ratley, chairman;
• Fred Williams (Van Buren), vice chair;
• Lundy Kiger (eastern Oklahoma), vice chair;
• Jerrod Yarnell (First National Bank of Paris), treasurer;
• Kay Johnson (superintendent, Greenwood Public School District); and,
• Linda Hixson, (Paris Chamber of Commerce).
Also, the regional alliance is working with Del Boyette, principal with Little Rock-based Boyette Strategic Advisors, to obtain a grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to fund the development and implementation of a regional economic development strategy.
Boyette was the AEDC director between 1993-1997, and has also served as the deputy commissioner for economic development of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. Harvel is a commissioner with the AEDC, as are Fort Smith businessmen Chester Koprovic and Lee Webb.
Ratley said goals of the plan will include physical and electronic methods to help area cities prepare for site visits and other aspects of economic development.
“This will not be like a feasibility study ... where we just put it on the shelf and not do anything,” Ratley said during a June 17 meeting of the Fort Smith chamber board meeting.
A Wednesday (June 23) regional alliance meeting is planned at which adoption of a formal alliance name is on the agenda. The meeting is scheduled for noon at the Fort Smith chamber.