Mark Simmons Takes Leadership of Council

Siloam Springs businessman Mark Simmons earlier today took leadership of the Northwest Arkansas Council as its next presiding co-chair.

It is the first time in the nonprofit organization’s 23 years that a Siloam Springs resident has held the Council’s top position. The announcement was made at the Council’s annual meeting at the Holiday Inn in Springdale.

Simmons is chairman of Simmons Foods, a company started in 1949 by his father, M.H. “Bill” Simmons. Mark Simmons was a founding member of the Northwest Arkansas Council as he worked closely with Sam Walton, Alice Walton, Don Tyson, John Tyson and J.B. Hunt in the establishment of the organization in 1990.

Simmons at today’s annual meeting announced that the Northwest Arkansas Council would work with partners to evaluate progress on the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy. The strategy is a five-year plan, unveiled in January 2011. It describes more than 50 strategic actions being pursued by the Council and its partner organizations throughout the region.

The strategic plan addresses such things as embracing the region’s increasingly diverse population, improving schools and highways, developing a regional wayfinding system, increasing access to physical activity and healthy food, developing young leaders, ensuring that existing businesses are finding success, attracting the talent companies need to be successful, and marketing Northwest Arkansas to companies considering relocation and expansions.

“We need to know how we’re doing, and where we need to focus our energy over the next 2½ years,” Mark Simmons said. “We think we’re on a good course, but an outside review is important.”

The Council has a history of being led by Northwest Arkansas’ top business leaders and executives. It was led by chair Alice Walton when the organization was first established and then John Paul Hammerschmidt took over in 1993. Hammerschmidt took over after serving 26 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, and he led the Council until 2006.

In 2006, the Council announced that it would use a system of presiding co-chairs to serve as the organization’s top official, changing the presiding co-chair annually. Past presiding co-chairs are Lee Scott, Jim Walton, John A. White, Kirk Thompson, David Gearhart and John Tyson. Simmons takes over for John Tyson, who has led the organization for the past year.