Small Town, Big Vision
City of Siloam Springs, AR
The City of Siloam Springs, in Benton County, Arkansas, located in the very Northwest corner of the state, has a storied history going back almost two hundred years and continues to be a thriving center for business, residents and tourists long after its founding in 1835.
Siloam Springs began in 1835 when German-born Simon Sager and his family were the first settlers in Hico, known today as Siloam Springs. Sager soon owned a plantation in the area and expanded his property while working as a cattleman and builder for the community as it welcomed more immigrants. In 1879, it was discovered that local waters had healing properties, which soon led to the creation of a summer resort and the renaming of Hico to Siloam Springs.
The Sager family have been an integral part of the founding of the city, and the Sager name is remembered to this day. In fact, the Sager Creek – which runs through the downtown – is named in honor of this first settler.
In many ways, the downtown Main Street area, established in 1880, serves to represent the welcoming feeling of home for which Siloam Springs has become known. The city’s many restaurants, retail shops, events, farmers’ market and more attract businesses and entrepreneurs with passion and vision.
The city’s historic downtown is flourishing as a result of strategic investment on the part of Siloam Springs and its businesses. It was not all that many years ago that the downtown consisted of a number of underused and vacant buildings.
The city is committed to maintaining the area’s quaint past while building its future, and $4.3 million in private investment has seen thirteen significant revitalization projects, transforming 40,000 square feet of old space into areas used by retail businesses and restaurants. Thirty new businesses have opened downtown since 2010.
“We are in the process now of planning a park – that will potentially feature an amphitheater and splash pad – and relocating the farmers’ market,” says Community Development Director Don Clark who has been with the city for nine years and in his current role since December of 2012. Clark has been integral to many of Siloam Springs’ strategies.
Clark speaks fondly of the many water amenities in the area for paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing and an engineered portion of the Illinois River – the Siloam Springs Kayak Park, which has class I-II rapids. The city is also building a mountain bike park that will have about four and a half miles of mountain bike trails, a pump track, and frisbee golf course.
“We are increasing our quality of life, but we are doing it responsibly,” Clark says of a sales tax was reallocated last year, which is enabling Siloam Springs to invest into its downtown area. The city is working with other community partners to implement suggestions. “Our downtown has been growing for quite some time, and I think our downtown being located on a creek sets us apart from other local towns and makes us a destination in the region.”
Siloam Springs was named as one of the best small towns in America by Smithsonian magazine in 2012; in 2013, Arkansas Business presented Siloam Springs with a City of Distinction Award for Main Street Preservation, and Parade Magazine named Siloam Springs one of the Top Four Best Main Streets in America.
The city has achieved much recognition and many awards for its efforts, including a Henry Award for tourism, Siloam Springs has been rated best place to work in Arkansas, number one on the top ten bucket list spots and recognized for its downtown redevelopment.
Where many communities have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to incentives, the City of Siloam Springs prefers to adopt an individualized strategy to help businesses become established and put on the path to success.
“Our philosophy on incentives is to try to figure out what the issue is and think outside of the box as a way to solve that financial gap, so to speak, if there needs to be incentives and not have an established program that states, ‘if you do X, you get Y,’” says Phillip Patterson who has served as city administrator since February of 2015 and also acts as the chief executive officer for the city.
His duties range from all personnel decisions to overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations and preparing and presenting Siloam Springs’s annual budget. “The city administrator works for the seven-member board, and the employees work for the city administrator,” he says. “The board sets policy, and my job and my role is to implement and oversee that policy.”
While the development organization has incentives such as waiving building permit fees, modified utility rates, tax rebates and a host of others exist, the Siloam Springs Economic Development team examines specific needs on a case-by-case basis. Some prospective businesses may also qualify for Arkansas state business incentives such as Create Rebate – which provides a payroll rebate of up to five percent – and Targeted ArkPlus credits of two percent on investments ranging from $250,000 up to $500,000, for example.
Maintaining a low cost of living and fostering a business-friendly environment has resulted in Siloam Springs attracting new companies to the area while maintaining and growing existing industries of all sizes. Another significant advantage is that the City of Siloam Springs owns and operates a municipal electric utility, which assures businesses and industries have energy solutions that are reliable and affordable.
Additionally, the City of Siloam Springs provides fire protection service covering about two hundred square miles in Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma. In one instance, on a new project about to be built, it was discovered that the water line for firefighting did not produce sufficient flow, and the developer would have to extend the line about eight hundred feet.
“We have a two cent hotel/motel tax that we were able to offer to rebate some of that tax for a period of time to help offset that additional cost to extend that line,” says Patterson. The area also has low property taxes, another incentive for companies locating to or expanding in the city.
Historically, one of the biggest industries in the area was Simmons Foods, a leading North American manufacturer of poultry products and wet and dry pet food and treats since 1964. Other significant companies include furniture maker La-Z-Boy, industrial and automotive belt and hose company Gates Corporation, plastic pipe company Pipelife Jet Stream Inc., DaySpring Cards (a division of Hallmark) and global poultry research company Cobb-Vantress.
There are many benefits that come from doing business in Siloam Springs. These include custom-tailored incentives, local utilities, reasonable tax rates and available industrial, commercial and office properties for purchase or lease. It also has a central location which is advantageous to manufacturers shipping product and workers coming to the area. There is highway access via 412, which is a direct link to Tulsa to the west and to the Interstate 49 corridor to the east. The area also has some rail access and proximity to both a local regional airport and the international airport in Tulsa.
For businesses, another valuable consideration is the available workforce. There is a well-educated population of 16,453 in the city limits, which grows to 53,276 within a fifteen-mile radius.
The City of Siloam Springs also has a reputation for its many quality of life amenities, and the average household income in the city radius is $58,970.
Of course, no place in Arkansas would be complete without annual events bringing in locals and tourists alike. The Dogwood Festival is held the last Sunday of every April and features over two hundred booths selling everything from fudge to funnel cake, along with handmade items, a KidZone with activities including a rock-climbing wall and mechanical bull and more. The festival was started in 1974 and sees community residents volunteer hundreds of hours to this successful and popular event, which draws about 30,000 guests every year.
Also unique to the area is John Brown University’s wildly popular ‘toilet paper game,’ which garners national headlines. The tradition started thirty-seven years ago when the crowd first threw toilet paper onto the floor during a basketball game to foster school spirit. Last year, manufacturer Kimberly-Clark partnered with the university to donate non-perishable food items to local food bank The Manna Center and 2,016 rolls of toilet paper for the toss, exchanging a roll for every food donation.
“It’s not just students anymore,” says Clark. “Now the community in the region comes out to be part of the tradition. It’s something neat that you have to witness.”
Siloam Springs has the services one would expect in a much larger place – such as police, fire, ambulance and other municipal services. The area is known for its four city parks, almost ten miles of trails, kayaking along the Illinois River, numerous playgrounds and much more.
Says Clark: “We are a small town, but we are a very forward-thinking small town who knows where it wants to go.”