Fort Smith is the manufacturing hub of Arkansas, with more goods produced in the Greater Fort Smith Region than anywhere else in the state. National and international companies such as Baldor, Whirlpool Corporation, Kraft-Planters, Rheem Air Conditioning, Georgia-Pacific, the Trane Company, Gerdau MacSteel, Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Federal Coach, Weyerhaeuser, T.J. Smith Box Co., Middletown Tube Works and Hiram Walker have facilities in Fort Smith and employ thousands of area workers to generate wood and paper products, food products, air conditioning system components, and appliances. Fort Smith manufactures everything from bourbon to baby food.
Manufacturing is the heart and soul of Fort Smith, with more than 30,000 residents employed in the manufacturing field. In fact, some of the city’s largest employers are manufacturing companies, including Whirlpool Corporation with 3,000 employees, Rheem Air Conditioning with 1,774 employees and Gerber Products with 761 employees. Of the 300,000 residents in the Greater Fort Smith Region, nearly 30 percent work for a manufacturing company compared to only 13 percent in the national sector.
Baldor Electric Company houses its corporate headquarters in Fort Smith and employs more than 2,250 people in the region. Baldor produces Baldor, Dodge and Reliance motors and boasts more than three plants in the Greater Fort Smith Region in Fort Smith, Ozark and Clarksville. Employing more than 8,000 in 50 district sales offices across the United States and Canada, Baldor products are sold in more than 70 countries worldwide with 26 international sales offices located in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Australia. In 2007, Baldor acquired Reliance Electric, more than doubling the size of the company. Sales ended that same year at $1.82 billion – more than double the year before – while earnings increased to $94.1 million – nearly double than the year before.
Fort Smith is also home to major food manufacturers including O.K. Industries, one of the world’s largest chicken producers and employing more than 5,000 in the Greater Fort Smith Region. O.K. Industries offers a full line of quality chicken products and services a broad customer base of independent restaurants, food service distributors, national chain restaurants, grocery retailers and other food manufacturers. O.K. Industries produces the nationally known TenderBird frozen chicken line found in your local grocery store, as well as chicken nuggets, strips and patties provided to national food chains in hometowns across America.
One of the newest members of the Fort Smith manufacturing community is Mars Petcare U.S., which announced its plan in late 2007 to build an $80 million manufacturing facility. The 250,000-square-foot-facility will employ up to 200 associates and produce the company’s popular line of Cesar® Canine Cuisine products for small dogs. Mars Petcare is one of the world’s leading food manufacturers and employs more than 3,000 associates with 29 facilities nationwide and owns some of the world’s favorite pet care brands, including Pedigree® and Cesar® Canine Cuisine for dogs and Whiskas® for cats.
“Fort Smith is a great community for our new facility, offering the perfect business combination of a talented work force, location and favorable logistics,” Doug Cahill, president of Mars Petcare U.S., said. “We are excited about our future in Fort Smith and look forward to becoming an active member of the community and a contributor to the Fort Smith economy.”
Manufacturing has long been attracted to the Greater Fort Smith Region by the area’s proximity to the Arkansas River and other major transportation intersections, including Interstate 40 and major railways. The manufacturing segment can easily find abundant, affordable utilities and a skilled work force.
Today, Fort Smith remains a gateway to and from the West as a mecca for manufacturing businesses to call home. Business is booming in Fort Smith.