Natasha Higgins is the Membership Representative at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. A native of Texas, Natasha moved to Fort Smith in 2012 with a passion to serve the Fort Smith-River Valley area, and she has been able to do that through the Ambassador program at the Chamber. She was named the 2016 Chamber Ambassador of the Year. The following year she began her career at the Chamber and is thankful for the opportunity. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Human Resource Management.
Natasha has been a member of the Junior League of Fort Smith since 2013 and will have the privilege of serving as the President beginning June 1st, 2018. The training she received through JLFS has inspired her to always remain community-minded.
We spoke to Natasha about what she loves about the River Valley area, her role at the Chamber, and her thoughts on the local business climate.
You are from Austin, Texas. What do you enjoy about living in the Fort Smith-River Valley area?
The Fort Smith-River Valley area is one that I quickly came to love. The people, history galore, and scenery are all things I enjoy about living here. The southern hospitality is alive and well. It was so comforting and refreshing to see how welcoming this community is. I compare that feeling to how friendly people are in Austin. The difference is that many people who grew up in the Fort Smith-River Valley area have remained in this area and/or have come back. That’s a true testament to this community. I am constantly in awe as I continue to learn about the multitude of history this area offers. I enjoy being able to take in the scenic views from the river to historic buildings and all things great outdoors.
What is your favorite aspect of your job as Chamber Membership Representative?
I absolutely love my job! There are so many rewarding aspects to being the Membership Representative. My favorite would be getting to know our Chamber member businesses inside and out. I enjoy being a source of referral for our members; therefore, I like to know all I can about a business and the industry. Growth is the #1 driving factor behind all I do for the Chamber and our members. I serve as a catalyst for the continual improvement of the quality of life and the economic well-being of the citizens of Fort Smith and the entire region for which the Chamber serves.
You work with many local businesses. How would you describe the current business climate in the Fort Smith-River Valley area to someone who is considering buying a local business? How do you observe local business representatives and/or owners supporting one another?
I can’t help but smile when reading and answering this question. I am proud to live and serve in the Fort Smith-River Valley area because it truly is like no other community. This is a great time to consider buying a local business. We are on the map and will continue to push forward to be an attractive area for businesses to want to locate.
This community truly understands the importance of both small and large businesses working together for the common good of this community. I have seen business representatives and owners supporting each other by being a source of referral, supporting each other’s successes and events, as well as even merging companies to be an even greater force behind what they do. Over the year that I have been on staff at the Chamber, I have come to learn of a number of businesses that are located in the Fort Smith-River Valley area because of the business climate even though their target audience and market aren’t actually located here.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve seen the Chamber be involved in?
I enjoy educating people on how unique the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce is. We are a 501© 6 non-profit organization. We are one of the few Chambers in the state that does not receive funding from tax dollars. It is exciting to know that our Chamber is responsible for the economic development of the Fort Smith MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area).
Some of the exciting things I’ve seen our Chamber be involved in are recruiting businesses such as Glatfelter, ArcBest, Umarex/Walther Arms, Mars Petcare, Phoenix Investors, Applied Process, Silgan Plastics, and many more to this region.
What is something the Chamber is currently working on that you think will have a big impact on our community?
The Chamber has created a program called Junior Leadership Academy (JLA) that is and will continue to make a big impact on our community. The Chamber is passionate about being a leader in helping retention in the Fort Smith-River Valley area as well as realizing the need for a skilled workforce to be able to sustain the current businesses and businesses to come. JLA is a Chamber program offered to high school juniors from Sebastian County who desire the opportunity to learn more about Fort Smith and the career opportunities available in our city. Participants meet with community leaders, government agencies, and civic organizations to be introduced to an environment designed to enhance and develop their leadership skills that will be beneficial throughout the rest of their lives.