It's like working in a park
He tries, humbly, to take no credit, but largely because of Adam Blalock, Fort Smith is the American headquarters of Umarex USA and Walther Arms, Inc. The city prizes landing this 21st-century manufacturer, located at Chaffee Crossing on Chad Colley Boulevard.
Leaders of the German-based PW Group, owner of both Walther Arms and Umarex USA, connected with the Fort Smith native when Blalock was president and CEO of Daisy Outdoor Products in Rogers, Ark. When they decided to build an American manufacturing facility, PW Group officers asked Blalock to help the company find an “optimum” location. And they asked to hire him.
By that time, 2001, Blalock had moved from Daisy to Fort Smith’s PRADCO Outdoor Brands plant.
“At that point, I had in my mind, ‘I’m here, church is here, home’s here, so really for personal reasons, I’m here.’ I told them I’m pretty much in Fort Smith,” Blalock recalled telling his German associates. “I said ‘I feel like this is where our family is supposed to be. If you are set on finding the optimum location, I could help you do that, but I wouldn’t be the one to run it. For me, it needs to be in Fort Smith. Having said that, let me tell you all the reasons Fort Smith is an optimum location – here’s why ...’”
Teamed with the highly motivated Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, Fort Smith Regional Chamber, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and then-Gov. Mike Beebe’s office, Blalock hit the bullseye for his hometown. First built as Umarex USA and completed in 2010 after occupying leased space since 2006, the facility was expanded in 2012 to manufacture Walther Arms, Inc. firearms.
An industrial neighbor is the nearby Mars Petcare plant, which has grown through three major expansions since it opened in 2009 and currently employs more than 250. Recent news of the planned third expansion projects the addition of 130 new jobs. Mars Petcare is noted as an energy-efficient plant; Arkansas’ first sustainable manufacturing facility and the first sustainable pet food manufacturing facility in the world. Like Umarex USA and Walther, Mars has a global parent company.
Today, Blalock works with 100 employees and more than 80 independent sales reps across the country. Many in-migrated to the area from all over the nation and world and are now residents of Fort Smith and this area. The company manufactures and ships a wide inventory of airguns and iconic Walther firearms. Blalock calls it “intergalactic headquarters” for Umarex USA and he says that five years later, he and the company are fully pleased to have chosen to be here. Strong business performance is one reason. But he finds additional benefits.
Blalock maintains that there is a recognizable lifestyle, a culture, at Chaffee Crossing that is noticed and embraced by people who live and work there. The setting invites you outdoors.
“Depending on where people are in their exercise cycle, you’ll see people at lunch running, walking, cycling, walking around the lake,” he said. Often, Blalock is one of them.
“On the surface, it’s 27 acres in our campus and facility, but for me personally – I happen to be a cyclist so I ride my bicycle everywhere out here,” he said. “It’s beyond buildings and what’s in inside them. It’s like going to work in a park.”
As accustomed as he has grown to be with Chaffee Crossing, Blalock still meets local people who are not familiar with how much has happened since they perhaps read about the original groundbreaking for his facility and other neighboring industries.
“When I’m talking to someone who doesn’t really know about it. whose travels don’t bring them out here, I say we’re near the Mars plant they don’t know where it is, he said. “People who haven’t physically been here may not know what is happening.”
They, like he does, may have memories that identify Chaffee Crossing with their experiences with the military Fort Chaffee, years ago.
“My dad and I bird-hunted out here when I was a kid,” he recalled. But he has been a daily observer of the growth of this now-burgeoning side of Fort Smith, for more than a decade. He’s aware of and can name many housing developers and builders, small and large business owners and other figures and companies with projects underway.
“What I tell people – sometimes they think I’m kidding – is I cycle out here, I go to church at River Valley Community Church right next to FCRA; I work here and I’m going to move into a home here in a new development,” Blalock said. “I’m a resident and a recreational user. I have four grandchildren and we love to go to the nature center. I’m pretty much here!”
This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.