Looking for a Fort Smith renaissance

guest commentary by David Potts

Editor’s note: David Potts is a certified public accountant with more than 33 years experience. Although every effort is made to provide you accurate and timely tax information, it is general in nature and not specific to your facts and circumstances. Consult a qualified tax professional to discuss your particular case. Feel free to e-mail topic suggestions or questions to davidpotts@potts-cpa.com

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

Last month my article “We have arrived” focused on a conversation about Fort Smith compared to Pine Bluff and was provoked by a “top ten list” ranking Fort Smith as one of the 10 poorest cities in the United States, one rank below Pine Bluff. The rankings were based on median household income.

In reality, when comparing Fort Smith to Pine Bluff as a place to live, Fort Smith’s advantage places Pine Bluff’s in the Pee Wee league. People are moving from Pine Bluff by the bus load.

But what does it look like when we compare Fort Smith with Northwest Arkansas? When I was in high school, Fort Smith was more prominent in the state than Northwest Arkansas, second place only to Little Rock. We’ve lost ground and are no longer in second place. This causes me to wonder where will we be in another 30 years.

Let’s look at a quick snap shot comparison of Benton County and Sebastian County based on the United States Census Bureau’s Population Estimate Program for 2012.

Benton County’s median household income is reported as $52,159 compared to Sebastian County’s $40,680. Benton County’s population grew 4.9% between 2012 compared to Sebastian County’s 1.2%. Also, 27.6% of Benton County’s adult population has a college degree compared to 19% in Sebastian County.

But we did beat Benton County in one category. It only takes Sebastian County commuters 17.5 minutes to drive to work. In Benton County, on the average it takes commuters an additional 3.1 minutes to drive to work, one way. Over a year, Benton county commuters lose more than an accumulated day of time, a day of their life, driving to work and back home. But then if it adds an additional $11,479 to household income, it might be worth the time.

Some may say this comparison is not meaningful since Benton County is home to Wal-Mart. I would argue it provides a picture of the possibilities of what could happen in Fort Smith if Fort Smith could develop a mindset and a vision of the future and work together to attract (or grow our own) economic development. With economic growth and the related growth in tax revenues, Fort Smith could develop the related infrastructure that would encourage a higher quality of life. Of course that would take strong leadership. And that’s where my understanding of the issue falters. From where would this leadership come?

First, let’s define leadership. Just because you are elected as the town mayor doesn’t mean you are a leader, it means you won an election. Just because you are the head of the local chamber of commerce doesn’t mean you are a leader. It might just mean you interview well when applying for a job. Just because a person holds a job traditionally thought to be a position of influence doesn’t mean their influence will be beneficial to their stakeholders. Their positions really mean only one thing: they got the job.

As ordinary citizens, we look to people in “positions” to be our leaders responsible for making our cities and towns great places to live. But maybe we are misdirected in thinking that our government and institutional leaders should be responsible for the future of the Greater Fort Smith Area except in matters of trash pickup and animal control. After all, Benton County was fortunate to be the home of Sam Walton, where years after his death the county still benefits by being the home of Wal-Mart, one of the world’s great corporations. And Bentonville wasn’t located at the intersection of major interstates and highways, nor was it located on a major navigable river. Sam Walton built Wal-Mart around a vision. He opened his first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Ark., then led his “team” to realizing his vision. Sam Walton and his teams found a way to thrive in Podunk, Ark. And thrive they did.

In its most simplistic terms leadership is about having a clear vision for the future and engaging people by communicating that vision and presenting a course of action to make that vision reality. My question is, “What’s our vision?” If I missed the communication of the vision then what’s our plan? I want the Greater Fort Smith Region to be significant in its own right, not as life in the shadow of Benton County. I want our schools, our healthcare, our quality of life, and our job markets to be the best. I want our children to return with their college degrees because they have opportunities to be successful at home, not to feel they must move elsewhere.

I wasn’t fortunate to know or work for Sam Walton, but he was a “public” figure and much has been said and written about the man. When preparing to write this article I, as anybody would, consulted Google and asked what makes a great leader. One of Google’s answers was a reference to a blog post hosted by The Leadership Institute at Harvard College titled “Ten Rules of Success from Sam Walton.” Click the link and take a minute to read them. Although these rules were written in reference to leading Wal-Mart to greatness, they could be adapted to any organization or institution.

After reading Sam’s 10 rules, it made me wonder. Will Fort Smith ever have any leaders that live by Sam’s first rule and really love Fort Smith, believe in it, and work every day doing the best they can so that soon the people of Fort Smith catch their passion for the vision? But then it begins with a vision. Is Fort Smith’s vision to better than Pine Bluff or to be the best place in the world for you and I to live?

Advertisement:

I love Fort Smith. And when I say I love Fort Smith it includes Van Buren, Greenwood, Alma, Hackett, Bonanza. It includes Roland, Muldrow, Sallisaw, and Poteau. I even love Moffett (or West Fort Smith). It includes all the small towns within a 50 mile radius. I love the people and the culture. I believe we are all part of the same community.

But I’m a numbers person. Benton County’s median household income of $52,159 compared to our median household income of $40,680? It demonstrates that something’s missing. We need to narrow the gap. We need to find our Sam Waltons for positions of influence. We need a clear vision of the future. We need our own renaissance.

Any ideas?

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 4.7 (9 votes)

Like This Article? Share It!

Comments

We didn't help produce a president

like NWA did. I remember the days also when they were our 'red headed' stepchild and appropriately treated as such. The short list shows they had a university, then Walmart, Tysons, Jones Truck Lines. We had ABF, Beverly's (which was knocked down), and a fair amount of manufacturing. In fairness to our area deserve it or not, none of what comes to mind in NWA can be sent overseas very well to be done. Make it heavy or make it perishable is about all that's safe. From the livelihood/aesthetics viewpoint I get the strong impression during most of the last 35 years or so we pushed aesthetics which theoretically was supposed to attract the livelihood and they somewhat took the opposite approach...both of us wanting to achieve the same thing. There's a reason they didn't say, "Second things first" I think when I drive through there coming home.

Ready, Willing, and Able...but Needing Guidance

I am 29 years old and graduated high school and college from this area. I have a 6 month old and have only decided NOT to move away for educational purposes within the last 2 months. I want opportunities for my daughter that I was not given in school, thus the appeal for moving to NWA. My husband and I have decided that we appreciate the support system we have in the Fort Smith area enough to stay. That being said, we would love to help the city of Fort Smith to realize new business opportunities and growth in recreational activities. I have been keeping up with the Future Fort Smith emails and have opinions of my own as to how we could grow. I simply don't know where to start. How does one go about getting land and funding for an aquarium so that our residents don't have to travel to Tulsa for such a thing? What would it take to create desire for new businesses to set up shop and stay a while? Most importantly, how does one change the mindset of an entire community into one where children grow up proud to say where they were raised? I want to help. Please tell me how. Ashlee
I am 29 years old and graduated high school and college from this area. I have a 6 month old and have only decided NOT to move away for educational purposes within the last 2 months. I want opportunities for my daughter that I was not given in school, thus the appeal for moving to NWA. My husband and I have decided that we appreciate the support system we have in the Fort Smith area enough to stay. That being said, we would love to help the city of Fort Smith to realize new business opportunities and growth in recreational activities. I have been keeping up with the Future Fort Smith emails and have opinions of my own as to how we could grow. I simply don't ...>> Read the entire comment.

Get involved

Ashlee, I have been fighting this battle for 40 years. You are correct that the main problem we have is mindset. We have a population that is very populist and think they are conservative. There is an element that is so afraid someone is going to get some assistance that is not available to them. Readers of the Wire know them by name. They also constantly harp about the city government and losing trust over broken promises. They never articulate what those were and never have any constructive advise. I urge you to get involved and share your ideas. I think that the future of Fort Smith lies in its past. That is its history. The Marshals Museum is key along with the development of the riverfront. More development downtown is also vital. The city needs to acquire more property and make downtown more accessible to automobiles. We need to buy the old bakery and make that additional parking for the theater and convention center. We need to get the Darby statue project finished. The east end of the avenue needs to be turned into a plaza with no through traffic. The TIP strategy report said we needed to attract folks such as you Ashlee. That is accomplished by creating a cool environment with recreational opportunities that the old fogies think are just fluff. We need a lot of fluff: trails, water park, soccer fields, parks and the such are things that attract the creative class that can choose to live anywhere. You have a support system. Those who are not native need to be attracted. Once you have this critical mass the jobs will come. But we should never stop trying to entice employers here while we wait on this. Progessive leadership will help so be careful who you vote for.
Ashlee, I have been fighting this battle for 40 years. You are correct that the main problem we have is mindset. We have a population that is very populist and think they are conservative. There is an element that is so afraid someone is going to get some assistance that is not available to them. Readers of the Wire know them by name. They also constantly harp about the city government and losing trust over broken promises. They never articulate what those were and never have any constructive advise. I urge you to get involved and share your ideas. I think that the future of Fort Smith lies in its past. That is its history. The Marshals Museum is key along ...>> Read the entire comment.

It is an example of a great success

I believe the Marshals Museum is a wonderful example of what a few ambitious people can accomplish and it will be a great asset for Fort Smith. Can its success be repeated for other projects?

Maybe

How can you rate the Marshals Museum as a success when it has not been built and has no history of operation? Where is the money coming from to build the museum? who will be responsible for the staff and operational costs? Lets see the real business plan and dollar numbers before calling it a success.

Articulation At Its Finest

The Observer said "they never articulate" but is seems to me that there has been a whole lot of Articulation on the failures of Fort Smith City Management. The comment on Cronyism hits home and the comparisons of accomplishments and budgets of other cities are a reflection of what ails Fort Smith. When a city squanders opportunity after opportunity and then promises new future opportunities, people start to doubt that leadership has both oars in the water. Observer also said the "Marshals Museum is key" but fails to Articulate where the 50 or 60 million dollars to build the site is coming from and where the day to day cost of operation money will be found. Just maybe a little more Articulation from the Observer would convince me that the MM will not be another burden on the taxpayers like the convention center.

Convention City USA

Maybe that's what it's all about. If not some people will make a lot of money planning, developing and building the amenities anyway and of course they will pay their fair share of the expenses just like the other 80,000 citizens here will. That's how it works in a democracy.

We need to improve our

We need to improve our quality of place for the entire region. We have so much potential and I agree with the article in that we need people that LOVE Fort Smith and are willing to do whatever it takes to improve the area.

Interesting article, thanks

Interesting article, thanks for your input and perspective. While I agree with most of your sentiments, I feel that you may be doing a disservice to initiatives and projects that are currently underway in the Fort Smith area that are specifically addressing many of the issues and concerns you have raised here. You may or may not have heard of the Leadership Fort Smith classes and association that is underway, with, I believe, two classes having graduated and moved on to projects that are looking to build this city and its people back up. It's almost uncanny how this group is specifically attacking the concerns you have with this area's leadership and perspective on leadership, as well. Check them out if you haven't yet - they even have a complete vision of what Fort Smith should be on a set timeline, and how they are going to address it. http://www.leadershipfortsmithalumni.com/about/ Perhaps you haven't heard of other groups and parties that are moving to address these concerns, but they are there and things are happening. Just over a week ago, Mayor Sandy Sanders proclaimed May 2014 the first annual Fort Smith Western Heritage Month. Out of the vision of two old time cowboys who want to see their city grow and prosper again, this event is going to be huge for our city and will attract folks from everywhere. Here's a link to the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FSWHM This comes from folks who aren't necessarily in a designated leadership position, but are looking to generate interest and revenue for the folks of this town, and it's working. Also, from a "numbers" perspective, it is very easy to look at Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas and feel like Fort Smith has failed in some, or many, ways. Personally, I grew up in Fort Smith until I left for college. After school, I lived in Bentonville for about 9 years. While that town is doing well economically thanks, in whole, to Walmart Stores, Inc, there is a lack of substance and other aspects that I wouldn't trade for the extra $11k/year ever again. While my focus in this comment is to point out things happening in the Fort Smith area now, I will only belabor this point long enough to say that if money is all that matters to an individual, Bentonville is a better option than Fort Smith. If you desire more out of life, perhaps not. I say that because being back in Fort Smith has revealed to me some of the most passionate and driven individuals I have ever met who are working to bring this town back to its "glory days". Not because that is some kind of badge that we deserve or want, but because it will better serve the families and people of this town in a long-term fashion, and truly give Fort Smith citizens something to be proud of. That exists, but as you indicated, we need leadership and people willing to reveal those aspects of our town, not to shy away and look elsewhere at what we could have - that will result in others doing only the same. We're here, we're working hard, and it's going to happen. The folks working on these things would love to have individuals with passion like yours involved and helping out, as you may already be doing. Let's get others to join in!
Interesting article, thanks for your input and perspective. While I agree with most of your sentiments, I feel that you may be doing a disservice to initiatives and projects that are currently underway in the Fort Smith area that are specifically addressing many of the issues and concerns you have raised here. You may or may not have heard of the Leadership Fort Smith classes and association that is underway, with, I believe, two classes having graduated and moved on to projects that are looking to build this city and its people back up. It's almost uncanny how this group is specifically attacking the concerns you have with this area's leadership and perspective ...>> Read the entire comment.

- RhadAwakening

comparing Fort Smith

When comparing Fort Smith to any other city (comparable or not), what is it that's actually being compared? Typically, what gets compared is the physical experience...all that can be perceived through the five senses. In other words, what is being compared is perception i.e., what is being perceived by the perceiver. The liability of comparing perception, though, is that what is being perceived is interpreted through myriad filters (concepts, beliefs, preferences, considerations, definitions, emotions, fixed conclusions, etc.)so any comparison made is very individualized. However, this liability of comparing through "filters" can be offset by doing what David has done. That is; strictly adhering to comparing measurements of like particles e.g., household income, population numbers, education, distance, number of things coming in, number of things going out, and so on. But even in focusing a comparison on perception (the 5 sense physical experience)by way of numbers, the key point is completely missed. To reveal what the "key point" is, this question needs to be asked: What is causing the experience (the perception)? In my opinion, an enormously more viable comparison to make between Fort Smith and any other city would be to compare what the residents, as well as the nonresidents that interact in someway with the city, believe to be true about their city. And in doing this comparison be certain to compare every adjective, adverb and superlative that is used as well as the emotions people display when talking about what they believe is true about their city. David writes: "...if Fort Smith could develop a mindset..." and this brief statement informs me that David does know where the problem is. The problem is not in perception (the numbers), which is just a reflection. The problem lies in the source of the reflection i.e., the mindset. Unfortunately, and this makes it difficult for one (whether the 'one' be a person, city or nation) to change a mindset, the perception (the physical experience)itself reinforces, validates and fortifies the extant mindset, which it is merely a reflection of.
When comparing Fort Smith to any other city (comparable or not), what is it that's actually being compared? Typically, what gets compared is the physical experience...all that can be perceived through the five senses. In other words, what is being compared is perception i.e., what is being perceived by the perceiver. The liability of comparing perception, though, is that what is being perceived is interpreted through myriad filters (concepts, beliefs, preferences, considerations, definitions, emotions, fixed conclusions, etc.)so any comparison made is very individualized. However, this liability of comparing through "filters" can be offset by doing what David has ...>> Read the entire comment.

My $.02

I've lived here most of my life and moved back here from NWA in 2008, a decision I've come to question from time to time. The biggest problem I perceive about Fort Smith is that if anything goes against it's historic and small town image, then it just won't fly. If you act like a small town long enough, you're going to develop small town economy and have small town jobs. When in Bentonville, I worked for an IT consulting firm that does work for Wal-Mart, and I can say that for Bentonville to be as small as it is, they don't act like it. Many people that go to work everyday to support the WM home office come from Washington County also and not just Benton County, and the south-bound traffic jams on I-540 at the end of the day can attest to that. So when you look at the scope of it, Fort Smith is really competing with (and losing to) an extremely large area of NWA. I'm 31, and a lot of my friends I have in my age group are concerned that Fort Smith could stagnate more than it already has, which makes us wonder where the future value is in staying here. The city is notoriously inflexible regarding new/expanding business opportunities (the company I'm with now moved a division out of state instead of adding on a 12,000 sq. ft. facility because of the city's "demands"), so many of us don't see the growth and upward mobility opportunities here that places like NWA offer. Talking about wanting Fort Smith to be a more prosperous city and how to make it that way is easy, convincing the people of Fort Smith they have the power to do that may not be so easy. I don't see people in elected positions as "leaders" as their job isn't to guide us, their job is to work towards bettering the lives of the people that appointed them to that position...if we want jobs, growth, and improvements and they don't even try to deliver, then we take the power away that we gave them and give it to someone else. If people took just half of the interest they have in Facebook or Twitter and applied that to the inner workings of our city government (state and federal too for that matter), a whole lot of things would change really fast. However, I'm afraid that is less likely to happen than Fort Smith getting on par with NWA.

My $.03 and More

Great analysis of the Fort smith "experience" Brad! My experience is that Fort Smith Leadership has been arrogant and has an attitude that it is their way or the highway. Business has always been treated as second class citizens because city hall believes they are infallible and the center of the universe so business selects a more business friendly city for a start up or expansion. If people want real change, then the anti business attitude of city hall needs changing and Fort Smith needs to enter a new era of putting out the welcome mat for visitors along with events that emulate the bikes, blues, and barbeque event in NW Arkansas. The solutions are rather simple and easily done but changes in attitude at city hall along with changes in city leadership are of great import.

The Sum of It All

Fort Smith has a beautiful riverfront, highway 40 that can supply from the East and West, a great labor force, The Arkansas River, Lots of land for development, Beautiful area lakes, fishing and hunting areas, almost 300 million in city and county income, great schools, a moderate climate, beautiful airport facilities that could land any airplane on the planet, great churches, beautiful neighborhoods, educated residents, and a whole lot more. So what has been missing? Could it be the absence of capable city leadership that does not know how to take advantage of the all the great community assets and create a business and people friendly environment? It seems clear to me that city leadership has had the assets and the opportunities for success but has failed to take advantage of the many resources available for community and business development. You asked and that's my opinion.
Fort Smith has a beautiful riverfront, highway 40 that can supply from the East and West, a great labor force, The Arkansas River, Lots of land for development, Beautiful area lakes, fishing and hunting areas, almost 300 million in city and county income, great schools, a moderate climate, beautiful airport facilities that could land any airplane on the planet, great churches, beautiful neighborhoods, educated residents, and a whole lot more. So what has been missing? Could it be the absence of capable city leadership that does not know how to take advantage of the all the great community assets and create a business and people friendly environment? It seems clear ...>> Read the entire comment.

A Capable Leader

What qualities would one need to possess in order to qualify as a "capable leader" as you mentioned? I don't ask in a malicious manner. I am sincerely curious. ~Ashlee

Capable Leader

the number 1 quality of a great leaders is to be Truthful and honest with people.

A question for Ashlee

Hi Ashlee. You've prompted my interest. You have asked "okie" what qualities would one need to possess in order to qualify as a 'capable leader.' I'm wondering Ashlee...what qualities, do you yourself consider, a person would need to have in order for you to be willing and enthusiastic to follow her or his lead?

Qualities of the Capable

Pilgrim, I had a REALLY long answer to your question that explained the many facets of what I consider a capable leader worthy of support would include. However, after reading the fine print of my response, I feel it boils down to this: A capable leader is one who can inspire change within the individuals around them - Someone who can take a room full of individuals and turn them into a group with a cause. Where that gets tricky is when you look into what exactly it is that they have chosen as their cause. The subqualities (bear with me) would have to include passion, honesty (at all times, not just when it is convenient), charisma, and the drive to “do” rather than “talk” about seeing Fort Smith grow into an area that people are excited to visit and live. Fort Smith is filled with individuals wanting to see our area become “more” and “better.” I didn’t realize it until I reached out to City Hall and they helped me to connect with a group (on Facebook) that is flowing with people who have the good of our area in mind. I may be naïve in saying this, but I feel that Fort Smith is almost a powder keg filled by well-intentioned individuals yearning for guidance on how to be of further service. It will take more people like this willing to give up some of their time, efforts and even money (if possible) to see change take effect. I’m willing to support the cause. Are you? Will you (if you don’t already) join or start a group aimed at improving the quality of life in Fort Smith? Many people will read that question and say no. A leader will say yes.
Pilgrim, I had a REALLY long answer to your question that explained the many facets of what I consider a capable leader worthy of support would include. However, after reading the fine print of my response, I feel it boils down to this: A capable leader is one who can inspire change within the individuals around them - Someone who can take a room full of individuals and turn them into a group with a cause. Where that gets tricky is when you look into what exactly it is that they have chosen as their cause. The subqualities (bear with me) would have to include passion, honesty (at all times, not just when it is convenient), charisma, and the drive to “do” ...>> Read the entire comment.

Join a Group

"Vote the Bums Out" would be a good group to join-up with. Where can I sign-up?

great answer Ashlee!

Ashley, that was a wonderful reply to my question! Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives. It is obvious that you used the question to launch an exploration that went deep into your ethos. Personally, I have found questions and the journeys into thought that they prompt to often times be enormously more rewarding than the answers arrived at. Brings to mind Emerson; to paraphrase, life is in the journey not the destination As for the qualities that you delinated in response to the question you were asked...I couldn't agree more. Ashlee, when I recall the various individuals that I have willingly and enthusiastically followed, the senior consideration that I held for the person was trust. Indeed, it could have easily appeared to an observer, that I had more trust in the person I was following than I did in myself. However, that would be an inaccurate perception. Because, in order for me to extend trust to another I have to first trust myself and my own ability to make choices that will serve, what I consider, to be my best interests. If I do not have faith, trust or belief in myself for myself, there is nothing veritable to extend to another (one cannot extend what they do not have). Without believing or trusting in myself I would merely be one who follows blindly, robotically, incapable of responding i.e., incapable of taking any responsibility, yet incredibly able to assign cause (blame) outside of myself onto those who are responding. A person that follows blindly harbors an artificial self-concept of unworthiness and incompetence. And no real leader has a desire to lead a bunch of robots. To truly follow or lead requires faith, belief and trust in self. Ashlee, you have revealed through your comments that you are an astute individual. You have also, in how you answered the question I posed to you, demonstrated that you have the courage to dive below the surface, below the experience, and venture deep into thought. Unfortunately, that is an attribute that is becoming increasingly more rare these days. If you have the inclination, I strongly encourage you to continue sharing and exploring your perspectives here on TCW. Your input is valuable and you are a splendid example of leadership. BTW, the "powder keg" you mention and describe has never not been extant in this city. The questions one needs to ask are: Why hasn't the keg exploded? What is keeping the keg from exploding? The empirical fact that this 'powder keg' you describe does exist and continues to not explode is, my dear Ashlee, the point where the cognitive dissonance occurs. There are so many things about that that just don't make any sense! Whatever answers have been offered by those who recognize this problem have obviously not been viable answers (the "powder keg" has not yet exploded). We have been looking for the answer(s) in the the wrong places. In my Fort Smith experience blog series I am attempting to turn our focus in another direction. We'll see how that goes. Again Ashlee, thanks so much for taking the time to REALLY explore the question. ~ a Pilgrim
Ashley, that was a wonderful reply to my question! Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives. It is obvious that you used the question to launch an exploration that went deep into your ethos. Personally, I have found questions and the journeys into thought that they prompt to often times be enormously more rewarding than the answers arrived at. Brings to mind Emerson; to paraphrase, life is in the journey not the destination As for the qualities that you delinated in response to the question you were asked...I couldn't agree more. Ashlee, when I recall the various individuals that I have willingly and enthusiastically followed, the senior consideration ...>> Read the entire comment.

It's a Long Shot

I don' think there's a list of specific items. Complete polar opposites are capable of accomplishing the same results...Steve Jobs was stone cold by some definitions and was approached with caution, while Sir Richard Branson enjoys cracking up with his employees and pulling pranks, yet both men have built enormous and successful businesses. One similarity is that both of those men had a vision and they both knew it would take a lot of work to get there and their plans would have to change over time as things came up. A problem with Fort Smith is, at least to me, their one track mentality that "if we share our history with the world, then we'll grow"...being proud of history is all and good, but I've never seen a company decide where to build their next job-producing facility based on historical landmarks, and that's really all FS has to offer right now. Again, I'm fine with all the history, but to me things like the Marshals Museum spell "tourism", and big doses of culture don't really help the unemployment number or provide better jobs for the citizens already living here. Planning is easy, accepting that some plans may need to be put on hold for a while when there are more important things that need to be done is something the city is going to have to learn to do. Find a mayor and board who can swallow their pride and who are capable of prioritizing and adapting to what needs to be done first instead of going full bore into the plans that they themselves want to see done during their term, and MAYBE the city will be on track to becoming a success story. -- Here's a quick test to determine if someone is capable or not, challenge each of the city officials to run the city like it was their own personal business for one year (pay bills, invest in itself, save for the future), and if any one of them dismiss you and tell you that it's not that easy or that you don't understand what all is involved, then that's the wrong person for the job.

Can you share any specifics?

Can you share any specifics of the city's demands? This is a recurring theme I hear often, but I don't feel I am informed enough on the matter to form an opinion. In the end, if Fort Smith is to grow and prosper it will require people to invest their money and a belief they will receive a return on investment. Is our city administration a problem?

great Question on specifics

Fort Smith Taxpayers have always stepped up when asked for a tax increase with exception of the unpopular Prepared Food Tax. Fort Smith Taxpayers are contributing almost 300 million dollars every year to local government and are getting very little return on their investment. The people still get water bills, the people pay for sanitation, so what do the people really get for 300 million dollars?

Specifics

I don't recall all of the details nor do I want to divulge some of them, but many things were minor, some were extreme...it went from unnecessary "beautification" upgrades to renovating our existing buildings to meet the new building specs (that cost of those alone shot the expansion down) in order to receive permits...there was zero flexibility or negotiation on their part on what was required. We were planning on adding around 6-8 welding positions, but we weren't going to even receive permits without compliance...so the city missed out on tax revenue from the new building and recurring revenue from property taxes as well as the tax revenue of those additional workers buying goods/services in the city. (FYI, the facility we opened out of state is covered up with work and we're adding a new job on average of every 10 months or so) You're correct about our situation not being unique...I believe it was Alpha Packaging that moved to Greenwood because it was cheaper to move and add on there than it was just to add on here, and recently the City Wire had a story about a guy who has an established, reputable towing business and if I recall correctly had some zoning issues and similar "beautification" requirements that he was faced with when he wanted to expand his business. He said the city treated him like he ran a junkyard. If the city wants to begin to make things look nicer around here, they can start with talking to the guy that owns that derelict building on Towson that has the vines and trees growing all over it...at least our business is contributing to the local economy. You may have noticed that my statements about the city are direct because they themselves are direct...like the poster said above, "it's their way or the highway".

Footnote

Additionally, the main reason I said "some anonymity" on my previous comment is because I'm not a representative of our company and I don't think they want me to air all of the details of our dealings with the city. I was just citing the circumstance as firsthand experience rather than hearsay.

No power to the people, only illusions

Brad,we know you are not naïve but you may be too forgiving when it comes to the City of Fort Smith. You write:" If people took just half of the interest...... and applied that to the inner workings..... a whole lot of things would change really fast." First thing that would change is that you would be branded a troublemaker. Second, you would be denigrated in public. Third, if you persist, then you would be harassed, targeted and set-up to take a fall winding up in kangaroo court where you will be put on the EZ payment plan. If you really want to deterimine what pins down this city, then you need to identify the "kingpin" at the center of it all. Answer this question. "Who can you least afford to get angry with your among the leaders and controllers of this city?" The answer to that question is the root of the problem. Inner workings, you say? Who on the inside is gonna let just any Tom, Dick or Mary simple walk-in and take over; even if T,D or M actually know what they are doing? Gimmme a break. It's all locked-up.

Kill the Messenger

Thank God for The City Wire and the unedited exchange of comments on the economy of Fort Smith, the job market, cronyism at City Hall, harassment and targeting of citizens and business that have the tenacity to speak out in opposition to the tax and spend policies, and other violations of freedom of speech rights that are protected by Law. "Gimmme a break" is 100% correct because here-to-fore most media groups have been hesitant to print any letters or comments that are in conflict with the tax and spend agenda and one media outlet has been accused of making phone calls to letter writers and demanding changes in the letters or have refused to print the letter. It is agreed that insiders have a strangle hold over the entire Fort Smith economy and if you oppose their agenda, you are the enemy and subject to attack. "Its all locked up" because the game has always been "kill the Messenger" if they don't play the game.

Rabbit Hole Here

Face Twit, your comment might as well be a banner that reads: ENTRANCE TO RABBIT HOLE HERE. However, from my point of view, the citizens of Fort Smith chose to go down the 'rabbit hole' long ago and have never been able to find their way back out to the light. That said, I'm reminded of a line from a song (Just Dropped In) by a music group from the late 60's i.e., Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The line: "I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in." Your comment has provided me grist for part 8 of my Fort Smith Experience series. It's time to acknowledge the shadows that exist within the condition of the city's mental illness.

Out of The Darkness

The comment from Face Twit nailed it and the Pilgrim is right on target so we can't wait for Part 8.

Determining what condition your condition is in..

is quite difficult when the condition itself is caused by the very part that determines it..especially considering even at it's best this very necessary part of each of us has it's drawbacks with so many people out there.

But we aren't from NWA

We like Fort Smith but we really enjoy NWA. We moved away for 17 years and when we returned was surprised at how dead it was compared to NWA. The people you talk to seem to have a common thought when it comes to our area, we haven't progressed much but we aren't far from NWA.

Fort Smith Sure Ain't NWA or NEA

Like Pine Bluff, Fort Smith was one of the "top 10 Most Miserable Cities in the US". Can we look at a trend longer than 2 years? According to the US Census Bureau's estimates, Bentonville, pop 38,284 grew at 8.5% between 2010 and 2012, City-Data.com shows Bentonville grew at 94% since the year 2000. Rogers, grew at 5.2% between 2010 and 2012, but between 2000 and 2012 grew at 51.7%. Springdale, grew at 4% between 2010 and 2012, but between 2000 and 2012, grew at 59.7%. Jonesboro, in the Northeast Arkansas, who has no Walmart HQ, Interstate system, convention center or riverfront, but grew at 4.4% between 2010 and 2012, but from 2000 to 2012, grew at 26.4%. Fort Smith, an anemic 1.4% growth between 2010 and 2012 and between 2000 and 2012, also an anemic 8.9%. also, according to city-data.com, Fort Smith has the lowest median annual household income compared to all the above cities, but I would venture to say, Fort Smith has the highest costs for water, sewer and trash. The above article mentioned it would take strong leadership to move Fort Smith in a strong business direction. And that reminded me of when over 71% of residents were satisfied with their trash hauler, yet the city forced city sanitation upon those residents and the local Chamber of Commerce stood silent and isn't the Chamber suppose to be about preserving and growing the private sector? Call up any planning department from any of the above cities; mention to them you are considering opening a business or remodeling a building and see who is pleasant and accommodating and who isn't. Great cities are built with vision and not a controlled growth mentality. Fort Smith not only needs a clear vision, but a vision that is fair and open to everyone through free market competition. That may include the private riverfront property, but then it may not. The City should focus on providing essential, basic services at the most efficient price. Should allow the private sector to compete and grow, like Bentonville did for Sam Walton, Springdale did for Tyson and Lowell did for JB Hunt. New business needs opportunity to grow and prosper without all the strict interpretations of regulations and a UDO that hinders small entrepreneurs from being able to start a business, thereby hurting startups. Real growth isn't going to come from Leadership Fort Smith classes, it is going to come from people feeling free to take a risk and feeling free to open a business without being upside down in regulations and UDO expenses. And by the way, the Marshals Museum was originally touted as a privately funded project, much like the $800,000,000 Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, which was fully funded privately. Can you begin to see the difference.
Like Pine Bluff, Fort Smith was one of the "top 10 Most Miserable Cities in the US". Can we look at a trend longer than 2 years? According to the US Census Bureau's estimates, Bentonville, pop 38,284 grew at 8.5% between 2010 and 2012, City-Data.com shows Bentonville grew at 94% since the year 2000. Rogers, grew at 5.2% between 2010 and 2012, but between 2000 and 2012 grew at 51.7%. Springdale, grew at 4% between 2010 and 2012, but between 2000 and 2012, grew at 59.7%. Jonesboro, in the Northeast Arkansas, who has no Walmart HQ, Interstate system, convention center or riverfront, but grew at 4.4% between 2010 and 2012, but from 2000 to 2012, grew at 26.4%. ...>> Read the entire comment.

Its Called Cronyism

The misuse of natural resources, the misuse of community funds, and the Cronyism necessary to reap financial rewards for the average citizen appears to be part of the problem. Fort smith taxpayers stepped up to the plate when they were asked to fund the expansion of the convention center and were hood winked because the salaries of the facility exceed the total revenues and taxpayers are still pouring in close to 1 million dollars per year to keep the doors open. The taxpayers stepped up to the plate again for water expansion and were rewarded with multiple water rate increases and the failure of city management to collect water payments from other cities. Then we had the failure of city management to collect the loan of taxpayer money from a contractor along with other pie in the sky promises. Its my opinion that the Fort Smith taxpayers are worn out with promises on a new tomorrow from City Hall and have given up hope. Now we have a repeat of broken promises on the Fort Smith water Park where we know that 2 million extra taxpayer dollars are floating in space because of the selection of Flintco of Tulsa who has been charged with paying huge bribes for construction contracts and a local contractor said that they could build the water park with more facilities for 2 million dollars less and keep the money in local hands by creating local jobs. The Marshals museum is the hot topic today and nobody has a clue as to where all the money will come from to build the facility (50 to 60 million dollars) and where will the funds come from to operate the facility? its my opinion that Fort Smith Taxpayers are worn out from broken promises from City Hall and have given up hope of any success! Other communities are glowing with progress and Fort Smith is backing up because City Hall feels no responsibility to keep their word to the people and depends on Cronyism to remain in power. That is just the way that I see it!

The One Commonality Between NWA & NEA

If I may, the one commonality between all the cities mentioned above, Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Jonesboro in Northeast Arkansas, they each have a Strong Mayor form of Government. In those cities, the Mayor is elected by the people. The Mayor is the CEO of the city. The Mayor is ACCOUNTABLE and RESPONSIBLE to the voters plain and simple, unlike our form of government.

City CEO

The City Administrator is accountable to the voters via the BOD. As a matter of fact, we don't need to wait until the next election to replace an underperforming "CEO". The BOD can just fire him long before election day. So why the delay? Either the Admin is doing the job right or he isn't.

Philosophical Differences

Rapid development in other communities point to some huge differences in local governments. It seems that Fort Smith city government believes philosophically that all things are are a result of City Hall activity and their creative efforts and the more progressive growing communities believe that good government comes from a strong growing private sector. Big difference and may explain why Fort Smith has not experienced any real growth because citizens have been waiting for their government to get the job done.

Thanks Jack

Great information on how Fort Smith is doing economically in comparison to other near cities in our area. Thanks to you for getting the information put together and thanks to The City Wire for getting it out to the public.