Christmas celebration gathers Fort Smith area manufacturers

Around 200 people gathered Friday night (Dec. 14) for the 2012 Christmas Celebration sponsored by the Fort Smith area Manufacturing Executives Association.

The event, held in the spacious dining facility at Golden Living’s administrative center in Fort Smith, featured a product giveaway and music from Oreo Blue.

Dan Graham, an executive with Rheem and MEA president, presided over the meeting.

The MEA was founded in 1974 by manufacturing executives who saw a need for a social and professional framework to work with government and business leaders to establish Fort Smith as a preferred place to do business. Its goal is to promote and foster a strong environment for manufacturing for the greater Fort Smith region and make the region the place of choice for manufacturers to bring new operations or grow existing ones.

“In today's business environment, manufacturers must work together to help shape the future economic, educational, and political environments of our community, state, and nation,” notes language on the MEA website.

Part of the MEA history is that of a silent-but-effective organization. The most high-profile effort of the MEA was to support creation of the Employers Health Coalition that gave area manufacturers a collective bargaining platform, so to speak, with area health-care providers. The EHC has been relatively effective in controlling health-care costs for MEA members.

Graham said Friday night that the MEA would be active during 2013 in monitoring state and federal and with health care issues.

During 2012, the MEA had 36 member companies, who employ 8,651. The U.S. manufacturing decline has been felt in the Fort Smith region. The MEA once boasted more than 55 members who employed up to 30,000 in the region. By early 2009 the MEA had 45 members who employed about 12,500.

Despite the struggles, the crowd gathered Friday were encouraged to celebrate their work through the year and recognize their benefit to the Fort Smith regional economy.

Russ Barr, with Gerdau (formerly MacSteel), did take a few minutes before his invocation to note the horrible tragedy Friday in Newtown, Ct.

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A gunman killed 26 people Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The dead included 20 young children.

“My thoughts for this invocation have certainly changed ... because of this senseless and evil act,” Barr told the crowd.

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