Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders said Thursday (Oct. 24) that next year's re-election campaign will be his last.
Sanders, who took office in 2011, said eight years in the city's ceremonial top job would be enough should he win re-election in November 2014.
His victory in 2010 ended a 20-year holding of the office by Mayor Ray Baker. Sanders Baker with 53.98% of the vote (10,148 votes), compared to Baker’s 46.02% (8,652 votes). Baker, 71, would die just four months later following a long battle with cancer.
"I'm dedicated to do what I can over the next four years, if I'm re-elected, to get some of (my goals) accomplished and other things started," Sanders said, adding that another four years is long enough for him to accomplish goals and get other projects underway.
Sanders was quick to point out that his first three years as mayor have seen plenty of accomplishments. The one most visible to many in the community, he said, was the number of new jobs added to Fort Smith in the last year.
"In just the past 11 months, we've had 1,300 new jobs, both manufacturing and non-manufacturing, announced publicly. In addition, a number of companies have quietly been adding jobs."
The number of employed in the Fort Smith metro area in January 2011 was 120,265, with the August 2013 employment tally in the region rising to an estimated 123,189, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
He said the new jobs coming to Fort Smith is a collaborative effort between the city and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, an effort Sanders said he has been intimately involved with despite his mayoral position being largely ceremonial and considered part-time.
"I have time to devote full-time and I do work full-time. I work the economic development full-time and still perform the ceremonial things that people have come to expect," he said.
And while the last three years have seen many jobs come to the area and meetings between Sanders and foreign business leaders, his term has also been fraught with challenges.
"The big challenge, and it isn't just here, it's the national economy," he said. "It has placed Fort Smith, as well as other cities across the country, in difficult conditions."
Among the biggest hits to the Fort Smith economy during Sanders' term as mayor was the closure of Whirlpool, taking with it about 1,000 jobs when the company closed its doors in June 2012.
The shuttering of the Whirlpool facility is part of a larger exodus of manufacturing jobs that started well before Sanders' term in the mayor's office. The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,600 in August, below the 19,430 during August 2012. Employment in the sector is down almost 35% from a decade ago when August 2003 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 28,600.
Even with the struggles the city faced before and during Sanders' term, he said his full-time focus on economic development and job creation have put Fort Smith on the right path, a path he said he would like to continue for one more term.
"We haven't let (the economy) deter us from being able to get jobs. Let's focus on what has happened from a positive standpoint. The big thing is the national economy. From everything I've seen and read, companies are ready to expand but are just waiting for those one or two upticks in the national economy to move forward. That's where we've positioned ourselves to move forward."
He pointed to yesterday's announcement of a $50 million expansion and 42 new jobs at the Mars Petcare facility at Chaffee Crossing as evidence that the city is again on firm footing and moving forward with job creation.
As for what Sanders' has planned for the next four years, he said there are many items, including working regionally with other elected officials to create the 12-foot channel on the Arkansas River, a plan that could get easier following Congress' passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 on Wednesday (Oct. 23).
He also pointed to working with colleagues across Arkansas, including the Arkansas congressional delegation, to continue work toward the eventual completion of Arkansas' portion of Interstate 49.
"We have to focus on long term, even though I won't be here in 10 or 15 years," he said. "We're still putting the steps in motion to make those things happen."
Another priority should Sanders win another term as mayor, will be working on expansion of the city's water supply.
"Our next major step is expanding our water supply because the need will be there (down the road) and it takes so long to go through the regulatory process, land acquisition process, the building process. That's one of the things that we need to begin to address. (We need to figure out) what are our end dates and work backward from there to begin (work) on all the things that are tied to our water supply."
Sanders, who could possibly face a challenge from City Director Philip Merry in his re-election bid, said he was ready to put his heart and soul into one last term as mayor.
"At the end of four years, I will have expended enough energy to sit on the porch and read books and spend time with family and grandchildren and so on."