Let’s again talk about this 18-month study on which Fort Smith taxpayers are doling out $340,000 for an adventure into collective self-analysis that, solely out of respect for some of the participants, we’ll not suggest is an absolute waste of time and money.
The key word being “absolute.” There is an argument to be made that there is a not insignificant measure of time and money wasted on this process of which we’ve traveled a little more than six months.
I’ve noted previously that my shallow farm-boy intellect has found this all a bit silly. Or maybe a lot silly. Not silly in a Monty Python-entertaining silly, but in a you’ve-got-to-be-freaking-kidding-me silly. This is my May commentary: ‘We will spend 18 months identifying areas to address, and then will spend time addressing those issues. In effect, we are saying we are willing to wait 18 months to begin aggressively targeting areas to improve. For the young entrepreneur, or the young family trying to decide where to raise a family, or for the business owner considering the future of the business, a two- to three-year holding pattern may push another region to the top of the short list.”
There was a brief time during which I feared my criticism of the process was a bit too much; that maybe there was no quarter given to allow the actors to mature in their roles. And then the paid consultants returned with a draft of a vision statement that reminded me again of why it’s nice to have the farm-boy smarts that provide guidance on when and how to avoid, collect and spread BS.
The draft vision statement is intended to highlight four areas in which this plan is supposed to benefit you and I and your neighbor and those smart-alecky kids who live two houses down. The four areas are:
• Retaining and enhancing community character and quality of life;
• Promoting sound growth and development;
• Growing and diversifying the city's economy; and
• Uniting the city's people, institutions and government.
Findings in this draft vision statement were a collection of the obvious. If you were surprised by anything in this draft you might also be surprised to learn that bacterium is really really really small, the federal war on drugs is an expensive and ongoing failure and the Hogs ain’t going to a Bowl game this year. Following are a few of the brilliant draft observations that we would have never considered without the benefit of this expensive study .
• We in Fort Smith have exhibited a lack of deliberate action with respect to supporting and/or subsidizing commercial development in and around the city;
• We lack the new housing, retail and entertainment attractions that would support day and nighttime activity and a vibrant urban lifestyle;
• The riverfront area has not been adequately developed;
• There are a lot of dollars for products and services leaving the Fort Smith area; and
• There is a growing Hispanic community in the city that has kept the population from declining.
• The regional economy is not doing well.
One shouldn’t be surprised that this “draft” statement was more of a “duh” statement. Some of these consultants are the same folks who just a few weeks ago didn’t realize we had a commercial airport in Fort Smith, or thought that the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and the Young Emerging Leaders were still “ongoing” and active organizations.
I could continue to mock this effort or offer some solutions. Or I could do both. Following are a few things wise and otherwise we could do with the (possibly) $300,000 remaining in the budget for this process.
• Prime the pump on a few big events in downtown Fort Smith. Maybe an affiliation with a large motorcycle rally that includes our history with Miss Laura’s. The Harleys, Hookers and Oldstyle Rally. H2O.
• See if we could use the funds for state and/or federal matching money for beautification projects at the top Fort Smith entry points.
• Buy lottery tickets. If asked to vote to spend $300,000 on a study or $300,000 on lottery tickets with winnings to fund an entrepreneurial program, I’d be willing to bet citizens would overwhelmingly support the lottery effort.
• Pay off bonds related to the downtown Fort Smith parking deck. Then we can remove the unsightly parking meters.
• Funding a study to study how much the city of Fort Smith has spent in the past 20 years on studies.
• Invest in compressed natural gas (CNG) conversion for about 35 city vehicles. The investment could potentially save the city $500,000 in fuel and maintenance costs. I just saved us $200,000. You’re welcome.
• Was once told that it required about $250,000 to book a concert with AC/DC. Let’s pretend that’s still true. We limit tickets to 5,000 for an intimate crowd at Harry E. Kelley Park in downtown Fort Smith and sell those for $75 a pop. With money from corporate sponsors you could easily double your money. You could sign me up for 10 tickets.
• We could buy about 10 seconds of commercial time during the next Super Bowl.
• Maybe we subsidize recruiting 15-20 huge state and national conventions to Fort Smith. If a minimum of 500 people attended each convention, the potential economic impact to the city could be as much as $3 million. Again, you’re welcome.
You, Kind Reader, probably have better, more practical, ideas for which to use the remaining money. Let’s hear ‘em.