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The Friday Wire: Interchange beauty and municipal hiccups

Beautifying a major Fort Smith interchange, a big money push for the U.S. Marshals Museum and the hiccups of life are part of the Dec. 13 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

• Big gap to close
Those old enough to remember the Smokey and the Bandit movies probably remember the movie’s title soundtrack lyric, “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there ...”

The same could be said of the effort by U.S. Marshals Museum employees to secure $25 million in donations prior to a planned September 2014 groundbreaking for the museum to be located in downtown Fort Smith along the Arkansas River.

Museum President and CEO Jim Dunn said in mid-August that the museum effort needs between $10 million and $15 million more to reach the “threshold” of between $30 million and $35 million needed to break ground and begin construction.

• Finally!
A group in Fort Smith is finally working to beautify and maintain the Interstate 540-Rogers Avenue interchange in Fort Smith – possibly one of the highest profile crossroads in the city.

According to Nancy Smreker, president of Beautify Fort Smith, the group has raised about $90,000 in funding to transform the interchange into an area landscaped with more than 4,000 shrubs and more than 100 trees. There are numerous great volunteers and companies stepping up to help, and they are all to be saluted for the effort – which will include other locations. The City Wire will stay tuned to this promising effort.

Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it ...

• Fort Smith area jobless rate ticks higher in October
Small year-over-year gains in the Fort Smith metro workforce and the number of employed saw the October metro jobless rate fall to 7.3% compared to 7.5% in October 2012. However, the October rate increased from 7.2% in September.

• Economic optimism, regulatory concerns
Most of the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas business leaders who responded to an informal survey from The City Wire are optimistic about overall economic conditions in 2014, but worry that federal regulations and changes in healthcare will curtail the potential for growth.

• The museum push
Jim Dunn said the U.S. Marshals Museum leadership and staff have a lot to do in the next few months as they work to meet a Sept. 24 groundbreaking. The focus of that work will be on securing more than $25 million in donations for a museum expected to cost more than $50 million.

$800,000: The amount of money the Sebastian County Quorum Court and the Fort Smith Board of Directors could jointly pour into the Ben Geren Aquatics Center above the already-committed $8 million should both approve an amended interlocal agreement for the project.

20,000: The number of Arkansas Valley Electric customers who lost power at the height of the Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 ice storm that blanketed the much of the Fort Smith region with more than a half-inch of ice.

18.2%: Estimated percentage of Arkansas high school students who smoke.

3.4%: Estimate by IBIS World of how much holiday sales will increase over 2012 levels.

• Obama’s Orwellian Image Control
The White House-based press corps was prohibited from photographing Mr. Obama on his first day at work in January 2009. Instead, a set of carefully vetted images was released. Since then the press has been allowed to photograph him alone in the Oval Office only twice: in 2009 and in 2010, both times when he was speaking on the phone. Pictures of him at work with his staff in the Oval Office — activities to which previous administrations routinely granted access — have never been allowed.

• The first female CEO in the U.S. auto industry
On the brink of failure in late 2008, the U.S. auto industry begged Washington for help. Five years later the industry has been rebuilt and has named it’s first female CEO Mary Barra at General Motors, a second generation autoworker to rise from the factory floor to the executive suite.


• Ivy League Walmart?
Wal-Mart Stores, which operates 11,098 locations around the world, has opened three locations on college campuses since 2011, according to company spokesperson Deisha Barnett. Ivy League students interviewed for this story overwhelmingly opposed the idea of a Walmart opening up at their schools.

“We have seen a number of positives occur recently which bodes well for the coming year. Company expansions along with new companies moving to the (Fort Smith) area provide a ray of hope, especially when coupled with the efforts of the state in incentivizing economic development throughout Arkansas.”
– Mike Callan, president of Fort Smith-based Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp., and chairman of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, on his thoughts about economic conditions in 2014

"I wish things would work faster and there wouldn't ever be a hiccup, but that's not how life is. I think planning and getting the right plan together is critical. Yeah, would I like to see the police station under construction now? Sure. But you have to put time into planning to make sure it's the right thing instead of just jumping at it and later saying I wish we would have done this.”
– Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman, explaining why more progress has not been made on projects to be built using funds from a 1% sales tax passed by voters in late 2012.

“It’s easy to do, first of all. We’re very involved with manufacturing issues and we see a lot of things people are doing great and a lot of problems people are having and we try to leverage the things people are doing well and highlight areas needed for improvement and put them in one place. For myself, if it means putting in some efforts to help somebody and also benefitting my business, then it’s a win-win for everybody involved.”
– Allen Engstrom, chief executive officer of CFO Network, explaining why he is partnering with web satirist Greg Henderson as a contributor to his new and completely serious web venture Manufacturing Times

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