Over the past 10 years, Fort Smith has seen a 32% decrease in manufacturing. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen a 14% increase in Professional and Business Services, which is awesome. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
As our city’s population has grown only 2.2% from 2010 to 2015. I think it’s important to address what our community looks like moving forward and the future of a fleeing generation. While companies like ArcBest, OK Foods, Baldor, and the University are incredible, two of which are my clients, that only accounts for around 6421 jobs (as of 2014). What about the other 81,773 of us?
Small business is the fuel of the present and our future.
Recently I’ve found myself in several conversations where people have expressed topics like Trane leaving, Core Brewing not moving forward with its downtown distillery, and why we can’t seem to fill the Whirlpool building. Every time I get in these discussions my simple question is, what is the alternative? While our chamber and other ambitious organizations seek to fill our communities with industry and jobs that don’t rival those of our neighbors in NWA, we seem to lose track of who will be living here in the next 5-10 years.
Here’s another interesting fact: 45% of Fort Smith’s population is under the age of 34 (as of 2015), and 17.1% of that group is under that age of 18. What?!
We’re expecting the upcoming 17.1% of our population to work in some sort of industrial job? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work. I have five interns, under the age of 19, that work with me on an active basis. If you’d like to understand the likes and dislikes of a community, surround yourself with young people. I’ve learned more working with these students than I could have ever learned by reading statistics.
Working with these students has been the source of inspiration for BASH and Arkansas’ first streetwear company, HEM Apparel, that will launch in the Fall. We must listen to what this generation wants and built it to suit. Don’t like the music? It doesn’t matter. Don’t like how they dress. That doesn’t matter either. What matters is that their ideas, start-ups, and passion for humanity, are scalable, profitable, and we must have them as an essential business function of our community.
I commend organizations like, Future School, for promoting career readiness over test scores, and groups like EAST Initiative (which has a program at both Northside and Southside) for giving students technical skills and knowledge for the 22nd Century.
The death of Fort Smith will come down to one thing: Perspective. Fortunately, it’s not too late.
I say this all the time to prospective and current clients, we aren’t better than any one company, we’re just more aware. We are expected to have a good and functioning product, but what sets things apart is the awareness and ability to understand the future. The same goes for our community. Perspective is everything. If we, as a community, can’t see that Trane leaving or a major manufacturer closing down is the push we need to spur more creative and sustainable jobs, forget it. We’ve stopped evolving. 100 job losses are 100 opportunities for small business ideas and growth in our community. No, it isn’t easy and it will require some action, but why be good when you could be great? Think I’m biased? I’m actually a non-college educated 24-year-old who chose to stay in Fort Smith to build my own business with zero funding. It doesn’t get any more grass roots than that. What’s your excuse?
Seen properly, everything that happens – be it an economic crash or a personal tragedy – is a chance to move forward. Even if it is on a bearing that we did not anticipate. – John D. Rockefeller
So what will you do? What is your part? I’m angry. I’m angry that we can’t seem to see past 5 feet in front of us. I’m mad that only a few individuals in our community (thank God for them) understand the role of my generation and the generation after me. I’m mad that we focus on antiquated forms of “creative processes” and excuses for why we aren’t innovative. I’m doing my part, be it with little to no money, but I’m trying. What will you do?
The Chamber of Commerce has created a great initiative for young people in Fort Smith called the Junior Leadership Academy, however, I’d like to see them actively promoting small business and assisting in real, tangible, resources to help small business get started in our community.
I’ve spoken with City Administration several times and they are 100% behind new growth. I would like to see public support from our Board of Directors for the little guy and not just big business. In addition, an initiative or partnership with the chamber to streamline facilitating new businesses that involve permits or zoning concerns.
Most importantly, I want to urge our citizens to think bigger. While our foundation is built on history and heritage, this doesn’t mean our present and future will survive on those things alone. It won’t and it hasn’t. Our kids are fleeing this place because we’re not oriented to the proper perspective or even the value of that perspective. I spoke with a young entrepreneur who has recently moved his business to NWA, he told me: “I can’t do business here because of value. It’s dependent client to client, but if you don’t want to pay me for what I’m worth and the value I bring…then why would I live or invest my time here?” We have got to realize and understand the perspective that this upcoming generation brings to our community and the value of it for the future.
While the purpose of this article isn’t to highlight the negative, it’s meant to do the opposite. Recognize that the future is here. The generation to prepare for is here. We must adapt and keep up the good work we’ve been seeing recently.
I’ll end by saying thank you to everyone who has pushed this community forward and who will continue to just do it without permission. The Unexpected, Peacemaker Music & Arts Fest, Gateway Master Planning, 64.6 Downtown, Bordertown Brew Fest, FSDBA, Chaffee Crossing, I could go on these are all amazing things happening. The growth of small business in Downtown is incredible. Let’s keep it moving. Get educated on the positive. Get involved.
Bureau of Labor Statistics Data