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How Western Arkansas Became a Global Manufacturing Hub

Household names in manufacturing set up shop in Western Arkansas.

By Bill Lewis on November 8, 2017

Fort Smith, AR
Fort Smith / Courtesy of Tankersley Food Service

Many of the products that make modern life comfortable and convenient are made in Western Arkansas by technology-driven manufacturers that have discovered the wealth of advantages of having operations in the region.

Those advantages include a deep pool of job-ready workers, an unparalleled transportation system that includes river ports, airports, Class I rail service and interstate highways as well as a central location within a day’s drive of major East Coast and Midwest markets.

When Glatfelter began searching for the right location for its newest manufacturing facility, it discovered the benefits of having operations in Fort Smith. The company, a global manufacturer of specialty papers and fiber-based engineered materials, purchased a building in Chaffee Crossing, the 7,000-acre mixed-use development on the grounds of the former Fort Chaffee Army Base.

Glatfelter, which has operations in 10 countries and employs 4,300 people, announced it was creating up to 83 high-skill positions at the new facility and investing approximately $80 million. The facility supplies products to a variety of customers, including the wipes and hygiene markets. 

“We are truly excited to partner with the people of Fort Smith and Arkansas because we know that investing here makes great business sense for our company,” says Chris Astley, president of Glatfelter’s Advanced Airlaid Materials Business Unit and a senior vice president of Glatfelter.

Why Business in Western Arkansas is Gaining Attention

Airsoft and HVAC

The company’s products touch on many aspects of modern life. It makes components for products like tea bags, coffee filters, hygiene products, note pads, inkjet and book printing paper.

Western Arkansas’s manufacturing sector includes a number of companies with well-known names. Rheem makes HVAC units in Fort Smith. Airsoft fans and shooters who enjoy BB and pellet guns are familiar with Walther Arms and Umarex. Both companies have operations in the region. Stark Manufacturing in Paris makes automotive air conditioning components.

In Fort Smith, Exide produces advanced battery technologies. The company works with the Department of Defense and won a $30.7 contract to automate and modernize submarine battery manufacturing. Systems produced in Fort Smith are able to function as emergency power backup for lighting, communications and life support systems on nuclear submarines.

Discover Your Favorite Foods that are Made Right in Western Arkansas

Global Presence

International manufacturers are also choosing Western Arkansas.

Bekaert, a Belgian company, makes steel wire and coatings in Crawford County. Brazilian steel manufacturer Gerdau has operations in Fort Smith. Baldor Electric Co., a Fort Smith-based designer and manufacturer of aluminum die castings, grinders, drives, gears and other parts for industrial electric motors and other products, is owned by Switzerland’s ABB Group. Nidec, a Japanese company, makes electric motors at a 347,000-square-foot plant in Mena.

The region continues to attract manufacturing investment. MPG Gear Technologies employs about 800 workers at facilities in Paris and Subiaco. The company, which recently made a multi-million dollar investment in retooling, is a global manufacturer of timing drive systems and components for the automotive aftermarket.  

Being located in Western Arkansas is a key ingredient of success, says Glatfelter’s Astley.

“Locating here benefits our business in a number of ways. It will enable us to expand our capacity to meet our customers’ growing demand for our advanced Airlaid products, provide us with closer proximity to key suppliers and customers, and link us to highly efficient transportation routes across the South. Equally important, it will allow us to tap into the area’s high-quality workforce,” says Astley.


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