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Fort Smith grows with tax, industrial expansions.

The tax increase that Fort Smith voters in late October overwhelmingly approved to aid in downtown redevelopment and other city projects should carry over into other economic areas, a city official says.

The tax, a one-half percent sales tax, will be used by the city to pay for expanding the civic center, developing the riverfront and building new libraries.

Projects slated for downtown Fort Smith as a result of the tax include a $27.5 million expansion of the civic center and $5 million in riverfront projects.

Now that the voters have approved the tax hike, the state will pay for about $9.5 million of the civic center project.

Tom Barr, chairman of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, says the tax vote will help economic development efforts in the region.

Other construction projects slated for downtown but not a result of the tax are $30 million for the new Beverly Enterprises Inc. corporate center, $7.9 million for a parking deck and a $7 million renovation of the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

In July, Beverly officials decided to build a 10-story, 240,000-SF headquarters in the downtown business district of Fort Smith. Construction should be finished on the project by late 1999.

Expansions

The Fort Smith City Board recently approved a resolution to issue tax-free industrial revenue bonds worth $1.6 million. The bond issue allows Mid South Terminal Co. of Memphis to build a 60,000-SF warehouse at the Port of Fort Smith.

Officials at the company say the new warehouse is needed to keep up with an increased volume at the port. Its current facilities, which are not at the port, aren't adequate, officials say.

Another expansion set for Fort Smith is at the Gerber Products Inc. facility in the city's industrial park.

The Gerber expansion has been estimated to cost more than $5 million and will include the addition of 100 jobs, improvements to the on-site water treatment facility and to processing capabilities and computer upgrades.

Gerber management said in May that its manufacturing facility in Asheville, N.C., would be closing, resulting in the consolidation of operations in Freemont, Mich., and in Fort Smith.

The 100 new jobs are set to be in place by the second quarter of 1998.

Another company that now calls Fort Smith home to its headquarters: Pallet Pallet Inc., formerly based in Toronto. With the move comes 60 new jobs.

Pallet Pallet distributes new and recycled pallets, reusable containers, packaging equipment and other related supplies.

The company was founded in Fort Smith in 1982 as Mid South Industrial Sales. Pallet Pallet bough the company in 1995 and moved operations to Canada.

Pallet Pallet employs more than 600 people in 12 offices and 271 service centers in North America.

Good Living

The Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Crawford and Sebastian counties in Arkansas and Sequoyah County in Oklahoma, was ranked by Industry Week magazine as the 32nd "World Class Community" out of 310 MSAs earlier this year.

The ranking came on the heels of last year's report in Money magazine that declared Fort Smith the No. 1 city of 300 MSAs in the lowest cost-of-living survey.

The Industry Week survey was based on manufacturing's productivity, share of total employment and employment growth. Productivity was measured by the gross domestic product per manufacturing worker in a given MSA.

Gross domestic product for the Fort Smith area was $26,714 per manufacturing employee. About 26 percent of the area's employment base is manufacturing, ranking Fort Smith 11th in that category.

According to the survey, the Fort Smith MSA had a 10.31 percent growth in manufacturing employment during the past three years.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas city
Author:Lee, Simon
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:613
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