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Old 06-02-2017, 04:31 PM
 
Location: Gilead
4,605 posts, read 2,042,389 times
Reputation: 3917

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With the NWA metro now home to over 500,000 people, and the Ft Smith metro having lost population every year since 2011 (despite Ft Smith itself experiencing small gains), I am wondering if the Ft Smith area has entered its era of decline that has long been speculated by people who follow demographic trends in Arkansas. Ft Smith was once a major manufacturing hub and experienced robust growth throughout most of the 20th century. Around 1980, it started to stagnate. In the 1990s and 2000s, Walmartland overtook it as Arkansas' second largest metro area and is continuing to experience very robust growth. At the current rate, it won't be long before NWA is, at least economically, a true peer to Little Rock. In Ft Smith it has long been a different story. In the late 2000s, it wasn't uncommon to hear Fort Smith compared to Pine Bluff in its early stages of decline. Like Fort Smith, Pine Bluff once had a very strong regional economy that has since fallen off a cliff as the jobs and people with means left for greener pastures.

The problems Fort Smith faces are not unique to it. It's the same story in many towns that were once major manufacturing hubs that have seen the loss of their economic base as plants consolidate and jobs ship overseas. In the case of Fort Smith, there never seemed to be much effort placed into diversifying its economy when the stagnation started. UAFS was a great positive step but for the most part, people who graduate leave the Ft Smith area for NWA, Little Rock, Tulsa/OKC, etc.

Does anybody think Ft Smith is in decline and what do you think its future holds? What needs to happen to prevent it from becoming the next Pine Bluff if that is indeed where its headed?
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Old 06-02-2017, 10:04 PM
sub
 
161 posts, read 83,961 times
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The crime rate in Pine Bluff has been it's biggest problem over the years more than anything else.
Unusually horrific for such a small town. That's why nobody moves there and those who can leave do so as quickly as possible.
Ft. Smith is a whole different thing. Crime is a problem, but not to the point of scaring everyone off. It has a better economy and location for commerce, and might actually benefit somewhat from it's proximity to Walmartland.
I think Ft. Smith will be fine.
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Old 06-03-2017, 01:03 AM
 
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas via ATX
1,196 posts, read 1,160,576 times
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The biggest problem I see for Fort Smith right now is a brain-drain to the north.

There are just so many opportunities for educated people to move just one hour to Northwest Arkansas.

The single-biggest shot in the arm to Fort Smith would be a freeway connecting it to the ports on the gulf of Mexico.

I'm afraid the state/federal govt has waited too long for that to make much of a difference. In another 20 years, the former manufacturing workforce that existed there will be long gone. Fort Smith would have been an ideal place for auto manufacturing 10 years ago, but because there is no direct route south, for raw materials to arrive and for finished products to be shipped to ports, that never happened.
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Old 06-03-2017, 05:55 AM
 
Location: Bella Vista, Ark
65,018 posts, read 72,711,274 times
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Rock Climber seems to have pinned the problem down pretty well in my opinion. I don't think Ft Smith is heading in the direction of Pine bluff or let's hope not, but he growth is certainly here in NWA starting just north of ft. Smith. It is a wonderful little town to visit, but doesn't have the personality you get further north. There are also not the opportunity for making a decent living there as we have here and many are a bit thrown back by the reputation of the city being very Bible Belt.
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Old 06-03-2017, 06:58 AM
sub
 
161 posts, read 83,961 times
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I think Pine Bluff boils down to crime. Ft. Smith area could be losing to parts north of it.
The southeast U.S. in general has benefited from the manufacturing situation so I don't think that's the deal other than companies probably don't see Pine Bluff as viable due to it's significant problems.
Towns like Ft. Smith just have a lot of competition for manufacturing. Maybe it will find a niche. The completion of I-49 and I-69 will help Arkansas in general. That could take a while.
As for the Bible belt comment, that's the norm for most of Arkansas. Jonesboro is probably a lot more of that than Ft. Smith and yet it's booming by Delta standards. Actually, it's population growth is similar to those towns in NWA. Jonesboro just doesn't have it's adjacent cities doing the same.
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Old 06-03-2017, 11:37 AM
 
Location: Bella Vista, Ark
65,018 posts, read 72,711,274 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sub View Post
I think Pine Bluff boils down to crime. Ft. Smith area could be losing to parts north of it.
The southeast U.S. in general has benefited from the manufacturing situation so I don't think that's the deal other than companies probably don't see Pine Bluff as viable due to it's significant problems.
Towns like Ft. Smith just have a lot of competition for manufacturing. Maybe it will find a niche. The completion of I-49 and I-69 will help Arkansas in general. That could take a while.
As for the Bible belt comment, that's the norm for most of Arkansas. Jonesboro is probably a lot more of that than Ft. Smith and yet it's booming by Delta standards. Actually, it's population growth is similar to those towns in NWA. Jonesboro just doesn't have it's adjacent cities doing the same.
Oh, certainly there are other areas of AR that are as Bible belt or more so, but I was comparing it more to the NW corner, as that is the immediate region near Ft Smith.
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Old 06-03-2017, 07:38 PM
 
Location: Gilead
4,605 posts, read 2,042,389 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rock Climber View Post
The biggest problem I see for Fort Smith right now is a brain-drain to the north.

There are just so many opportunities for educated people to move just one hour to Northwest Arkansas.

The single-biggest shot in the arm to Fort Smith would be a freeway connecting it to the ports on the gulf of Mexico.

I'm afraid the state/federal govt has waited too long for that to make much of a difference. In another 20 years, the former manufacturing workforce that existed there will be long gone. Fort Smith would have been an ideal place for auto manufacturing 10 years ago, but because there is no direct route south, for raw materials to arrive and for finished products to be shipped to ports, that never happened.
I agree with this. I wonder what's going to happen to the town once all the manufacturing is gone. Aside from that, you have the hospitals, ABF, and maybe a few others but most of what you are left with is service jobs. I really wish they would have built the segment of I-49 from Fort Smith to Texarkana as was originally planned. I think that would have really given the area the shot in the arm it has needed for a long time.

As for the city's Bible Belt reputation which nmnita spoke of, it's a very big part of the culture of the Ft Smith area. Most counties surrounding it are dry and every time some kind of entertainment is proposed that involves alcohol, the churches take to the streets to try to get it stopped. I know for a fact that's a big part of the reason why younger generations don't want to stay there. It has become a little better than it was when Ray Baker was mayor, but it still happens far too often.
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Old 06-05-2017, 07:14 PM
 
13,394 posts, read 1,869,871 times
Reputation: 3111
Quote:
Originally Posted by bawac34618 View Post
With the NWA metro now home to over 500,000 people, and the Ft Smith metro having lost population every year since 2011 (despite Ft Smith itself experiencing small gains), I am wondering if the Ft Smith area has entered its era of decline that has long been speculated by people who follow demographic trends in Arkansas. Ft Smith was once a major manufacturing hub and experienced robust growth throughout most of the 20th century. Around 1980, it started to stagnate. In the 1990s and 2000s, Walmartland overtook it as Arkansas' second largest metro area and is continuing to experience very robust growth. At the current rate, it won't be long before NWA is, at least economically, a true peer to Little Rock. In Ft Smith it has long been a different story. In the late 2000s, it wasn't uncommon to hear Fort Smith compared to Pine Bluff in its early stages of decline. Like Fort Smith, Pine Bluff once had a very strong regional economy that has since fallen off a cliff as the jobs and people with means left for greener pastures.

The problems Fort Smith faces are not unique to it. It's the same story in many towns that were once major manufacturing hubs that have seen the loss of their economic base as plants consolidate and jobs ship overseas. In the case of Fort Smith, there never seemed to be much effort placed into diversifying its economy when the stagnation started. UAFS was a great positive step but for the most part, people who graduate leave the Ft Smith area for NWA, Little Rock, Tulsa/OKC, etc.

Does anybody think Ft Smith is in decline and what do you think its future holds? What needs to happen to prevent it from becoming the next Pine Bluff if that is indeed where its headed?
I was just in Fort Smith.I think its kind of stagnant.I have heard of plants closing there and stuff like that.I hear it has a crime problem but I have never felt threatened there.I am thinking of moving to the Natural State and Northwest Arkansas appeals to me more than Fort Smith.Fort Smith may be an option.
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Old 06-06-2017, 11:06 AM
 
7,187 posts, read 6,273,131 times
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Fort Smith has a very colorful history - it saw considerable action during the Civil War, and was a significant site in regard to civilian history, with local rural families seeking refuge within the fort itself to escape murderous bushwhackers. My ancestors were among those refugee families, many of whom were later taken to southern Illinois for the duration of the war, only returning in spring of 1865.

Hanging Judge Parker came later. Proximity to Indian Territory and the Arkansas River made Fort Smith a key location during the Civil War. Several good-sized skirmishes were fought nearby - Devil's Backbone just outside of Greenwood, Old Jenny Lind - as both sides struggled for control of the fort.

Just across the river, Van Buren has a striking and nicely restored/maintained Victorian Main Street, with several interesting small businesses and other potential tourist attractions.

Emphasizing this history more would draw history-minded visitors to the area in greater numbers. The current fort is a national historic park and is in good condition. The other sites are less known, though Greenwood's old jail houses a small local history museum and library, with a restored one-room schoolhouse nearby with photos of classes that once attended there (some of my distant cousins are in those pictures). I don't think Devil's Backbone, aka Backbone Mountain, even appears on the Arkansas Civil War Trail. Perhaps Sebastian County could create a local Civil War or local history trail of its own to draw on this remarkable background.

Tourism isn't the whole answer, of course, but it could be stepped up and would add to the local economy as well as to increased awareness of the area.
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Old 06-06-2017, 03:49 PM
 
13,394 posts, read 1,869,871 times
Reputation: 3111
Quote:
Originally Posted by bawac34618 View Post
I agree with this. I wonder what's going to happen to the town once all the manufacturing is gone. Aside from that, you have the hospitals, ABF, and maybe a few others but most of what you are left with is service jobs. I really wish they would have built the segment of I-49 from Fort Smith to Texarkana as was originally planned. I think that would have really given the area the shot in the arm it has needed for a long time.

As for the city's Bible Belt reputation which nmnita spoke of, it's a very big part of the culture of the Ft Smith area. Most counties surrounding it are dry and every time some kind of entertainment is proposed that involves alcohol, the churches take to the streets to try to get it stopped. I know for a fact that's a big part of the reason why younger generations don't want to stay there. It has become a little better than it was when Ray Baker was mayor, but it still happens far too often.
I wish there were more wet counties in Arkansas.It would be nice if South Sebastian County was wet too but at least Fort Smith is.
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