Wes Smithwick Named B.A. Citizen of the Year

Managing Editor

BROKEN ARROW ADVOCATE: Eric Kehmeier, left, Broken Arrow Chamber 2017 board chair, and Ted Cundiff, Broken Arrow Economic Development Corporation 2018 board chair, congratulate Broken Arrow Chamber President and CEO Wes Smithwick, center, as the 2018 Citizen of the Year.

Courtesy Broken Arrow Chamber

On Feb. 10, Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce President and Wes Smithwick was named Citizen of the Year at the Broken Arrow Chamber’s Awards Banquet.

“Wes was chosen due to his tireless efforts in advocating for the city of Broken Arrow,” says Eric Kehmeier, Broken Arrow Chamber 2017 board chair. “He has also been a driving force in the partnership of the chamber, city and school district to make sure our city is moving forward.”

That mentality of working together for the good of the city and “leaving our egos at the door,” has allowed the city to continue its upward trajectory as it is now the fourth largest city in Oklahoma, “soon to be third,” says Smithwick.

“We work hard to support each other in affecting change.”

One example of that “change” is the planned creation of an Innovation District that will involve partnerships with educational institutions and industries to help create a skilled workforce, says Smithwick.

The district will be designed to bring together education with internship and job training programs and employment opportunities.

“It’s designed to be an ecosystem,” he says.

Smithwick, an Alabama native, has been president of the chamber since 2010.
Among Smithwick’s many accolades is that he is credited for leading the charge in the revitalization of downtown Broken Arrow, which began nearly seven years ago.

In April 2011, Smithwick chartered a bus to take 30 B.A. leaders and stakeholders to visit Dallas, Plano, Texas, and other cities that have successfully created thriving main streets and downtown areas, says Smithwick.

On the ride home, Smithwick led a discussion on what the city’s vision should be for downtown.

“At the time, we had numerous disparate groups all wanting to help downtown move forward,” he recalls.

However, the only way that downtown could successfully do that would be through the creation of a shared vision.

That discussion allowed all groups involved to get on the same page, and “now, everything we saw on that trip is unfolding in the Rose District,” Smithwick says, such as mixed-use buildings, including the $18 million, 120,000-square-foot development that will be constructed along Main Street, widened sidewalks, outside dining, landscaping, and a water feature.

The water feature, a zero grade fountain, was unveiled in 2016 and sits in the renamed Rose District Plaza, which can also serve as an event venue, Smithwick notes. The plaza includes the pavilion, which is home to the spring and summer farmers market and ice skating rink during winter months.

“The Rose District has been the most fulfilling thing in my career,” he says.

“To be so intimately involved in a project from inception to reality and to continue to be involved in where it’s going has been a privilege.”

In order to learn from other cities’ successes, Smithwick leads an annual Best Practices trip for community leaders and stakeholders. Last year, city members visited Carmel, Indiana, which was ranked the Most Livable City in the United States by Today. (Broken Arrow was No. 29.)

Recently, the city has experienced a series of job expansion announcements, particularly in the manufacturing sector, companies including Dover Artificial Lift Systems, Russelectric, Alfa Laval and CymSTAR.

These announcements, far from coming about by happenstance, are due to strategic efforts to keep job growth happening, says Smithwick.

Most of these strategic efforts are focused on business expansion and retention, continues Smithwick, which are largely centered on building relationships and connecting them with needed resources.

“What many people don’t realize is that Wes has been behind the scenes in many of our economic development projects,” says Kehmeier.

Most recently, that has included the downtown mixed-use project as well as the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, which will grow area tourism and sales tax revenue, he says.

After an unsuccessful attempt by city officials to develop a conference center in the early-2000s, Smithwick and chamber staff focused their attention in 2012 on reviving the project.

The hotel and conference center opened in November.

The chamber saw the conference center as something the city needed, Smithwick says.

As Smithwick reflects on the development explosion that has taken place in north Broken Arrow, his future plans include continuing to advocate for growth in south B.A.
While it will take time to increase traffic numbers and homes in the area, “The city has the infrastructure ready with water, sewer and widened streets to accommodate the future growth,” he says. And that growth will come.

Currently, 2,000 residential lots, mostly in south B.A., are under construction or are ready for construction; in addition, 45 percent of Broken Arrow is still undeveloped.

“My focus is to make sure that we continue our growth and build out the city.”

Updated 02-28-2018

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