Am trying to be optimistic in the give-them-the-benefit-of-the-doubt allowance.
This optimism and its need is in reference to the Fort Smith Regional Council, a group of CEO’s who have agreed to attempt to do for the Fort Smith region what similar groups did and continue to do for Northwest Arkansas and central Arkansas.
Also, am asking Kind Reader’s forgiveness for again visiting this subject. Opined on the council in late May, in an effort focused on hoping the council formation isn’t BS. In that tiny tempest, I noted:
“Other cold hard facts to consider: Fort Smith was once the second-largest city within the state’s second largest metro area. At the end of 2010, the city was barely the state’s second-largest city and it was within Arkansas’ third-largest metro area. If trends continue, Fort Smith could by 2020 be the state’s third- or fourth-largest city within a metro area moving toward being the fourth-largest metro area.
“Indeed, the political and financial resources on the FSRC present the best option to stop our economic bleeding and put some color back into our cheeks. It is not hyperbole to suggest that if these folks can’t pull it off within the next 3-5 years, we could find ourselves losing even the small economic gains made since 1990.”
Again, am trying to be optimistic.
To bolster the need for optimism, visited this week with Paul Harvel, the president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, who will also manage what he commonly refers to as a “CEO group.”
In this case, CEO does not stand for Change Everything Overnight, or Creating Economic Opportunity Overnight or anything else that might erroneously suggest by next Spring we’ll all be Rockefellers, the local dealerships will have a waiting list for Bentleys, or that even the Yellow Umbrella will serve filet and lobster.
Nope. This CEO group is a collection of chief executive officers. Not sure we need more chiefs or executives or officers officiating, but am trying to be optimistic.
We need visionaries. Pot-stirrers. Leaders. Folks willing to dream big even if it means they fail big a few times before bigness is realized. Go-make-it-happen folks. Which is what I attempted to bluntly but diplomatically share with Mr. Harvel.
Harvel understands. And he’s been here before, except here was in Little Rock.
Not much was happening there. The downtown in Little Rock and North Little Rock was in shambles, and the regional economy was tepid. Harvel is quick to stress he was not the magic-wand waver, but does note that he helped manage a group — “Fifty for the Future” — that began to think big. Dream big. They were trying to be optimistic.
Harvel is also quick to note that the Little Rock group initially had more failures than victories, but the victories resulted from learning from the failures, and in the end the failures created more far-reaching victories. His point was simple: To succeed, you must be willing to fall flat on your face a few times.
If you’ve been to downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock in recent years, you’ve noticed a dynamic and thriving city core. And the central Arkansas regional economy is performing well relative to national economic conditions.
“You’ve got to look at this long term ... and we have to be very realistic about our long-term objectives,” Harvel said about what he and the CEO group are now trying to do in Fort Smith. “It may not happen in the next 18 months, but I’m telling you that something will happen.”
The reply to his optimism was that I and many others in the region are trying to be optimistic. But that optimism is hard to muster. We got burnt on that TIP studies plan thingy in which we had a good plan. Hell, I went off and said in a few published essays that TIP was a good plan with good support, and then it all fell into a big pile of nothing because of leadership failures so broad, deep and tragic they would require a Find-The-Titanic-type effort to research and document.
Past efforts have failed because they were unable to communicate while trying to lead, and when trying to lead, they were unable to communicate. That’s a tough thing, leading and communicating. Especially at the same time. Winston Churchill and Gen. Patton and Wernher Von Braun did it — though they used vastly different methods to do both. But they all knew how to Push Back, Fight Hard and Fly High.
Am trying to trying to be optimistic, but we really need to Push Back against current economic woes. It’s way past time to Fight Hard to diversify the regional economy so that we are more dependent on the decisions and actions of local business leaders rather than those from of other states or nationalities. We then must Fly High with socio-economic gains that meld a great place to do business with a cool place to live and a fine place to raise a family.
Is that a tall order? Yep.
But I’m trying to be optimistic. Am trying real hard.