TMCNet:  Chamber Leader Sees Revival Of Regional Job Market

[February 01, 2013]

Chamber Leader Sees Revival Of Regional Job Market

POTEAU, Feb 01, 2013 (Times Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Harvel said Thursday that recent hiring activity has likely offset the loss of employment the area experienced from manufacturing layoffs of recent years.


Harvel told participants at a Poteau Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon that area businesses and industries -- many of them established operations -- are hiring new employees at a surprising pace.

"We are seeing a lot of activity," Harvel said, noting numerous businesses are "in growth mode." He cited the 500-worker operation of the Sykes Enterprises call center in Fort Smith, a recent announcement by German firearms manufacturer Walther Arms to invest $7 million as it locates at Chaffee Crossing and a decision by Golden Living to expand its area workforce to about 850.

"I don't have any way to get the numbers," Harvel admitted, explaining many businesses do not want to release expansion plans. But he said "with two exceptions, every company I have talked to is either adding employees or not laying off employees." Harvel said the area has not abandoned its heritage as a manufacturing center, and said a recent survey of site selection consultants showed there is interest in bringing manufacturing back to American shores. Modern manufacturing operations, he said, rely heavily on robotics, which rather than taking away jobs, demand an educated and skilled workforce.

"That's what we are pushing," Harvel said.

Harvel predicted this week's announcement of a $1.1 billion industrial investment in a steel mill operation in Mississippi County will have an impact even in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. He said a project of the magnitude of Big River Steel "attracts the attention of the nation." Investors who realize Arkansas' value as a location ready for expansion may explore options in other regions of the state.

Harvel praised the work of Poteau Chamber of Commerce members in serving their community and welcomed their participation in the Fort Smith Regional Alliance. The partnership of communities within a 50-mile radius of Fort Smith has a population of nearly 430,000, Harvel said.

"That makes you a member of a very large organization," he added. Harvel said the alliance serves to unite the resources of the region in economic development efforts that can benefit the entire region.

"Everyone markets in regions now. You are part of a region," he said.

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