1st Quarter 2018 - Building Bridges to the Future
Bill Plank, 2018 Chamber Chair
Greetings! I want to begin my first article as Chamber Chairman by thanking all our members. Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce members are the driving force of our local economy and it is important you understand your value. We are celebrating our 125th (quasquicentennial) anniversary throughout 2018. To make our lives a little easier, it has been coined Q125, so look for that term going forward!
Jefferson City’s first bridge was built in 1896 at what is now Rotary Centennial Park at the end of Bolivar Street. The steel and wood drawbridge spanned 1,745 feet, took exactly one year to build, and was privately funded at a cost of $250,000. Twenty thousand people attended the dedication on May 22, 1896. To put that in perspective, our population at the time was about 7,000! The bridge was monumental for the entire state because prior to being built travelers to our State Capitol had to cross either up or down river. As big of an inconvenience as that would be for us today, imagine how much time and stress that would add when travelling by horse and buggy!
Seeing a need for easier transportation and the benefits it would have for all Jefferson Citians, a group of prominent business and civic leaders met on April 6, 1893. These men formed “The Commercial Club” with the initial goal of building the bridge. With the momentum of the bridge construction, they continued to champion initiatives to improve the area. In fact, their purpose as stated in the first meeting minutes was, “To advance the material, social, and educational interests of the city.” The Commercial Club was eventually renamed the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and our members continue the same mission of improving our area. The metaphorical bridges created by connecting people to initiatives and industries are just as important as the physical bridges spanning the river. The Chamber, primarily through volunteer efforts and private financial support, has been instrumental in most community betterment and economic development projects and initiatives in our area.
Despite these accomplishments, our work is far from over. As our Q125 tagline, “Building Bridges to the Future” indicates, we still have places we need to go. Just as our ancestors faced other cities in Missouri trying to steal the Capitol, we know our retailers are seeing their customers’ dollars going elsewhere. The price, selection, and convenience of the internet can be hard to beat. The service is not. Our local retailers support our kids’ sports, non-profit fundraisers, and various other charitable causes. Dollars spent in our local community are reinvested in our roads, parks, fire departments, and law enforcement professionals. As I am writing this article, Amazon is deciding where they will open their 2nd headquarters. They will invest $5 billion in whichever community wins the bid. Every time one of us buys something from Amazon, we are investing in that city instead of our own community. There will be ways to help protect our local retailers that support all of us. As the call comes, I hope many of you will help find that solution.
It is equally imperative we provide a high quality workforce so we will continue to support all of our schools. As the largest student population, the success of Jefferson City Public Schools is tied to the success of our community. We are providing a better learning environment for student achievement with the construction of the second high school. However, it takes more than a building to turn young minds into great citizens. It takes all of us supporting our educators and emphasizing character. It takes a relentless focus on learning and continuous improvement. Our employers have spoken about the need for good workers. We are diligently working with all area schools to introduce counselors and children to the possibilities available, as there are some hidden gems of opportunities at local companies.
Lastly, we will continue working on our “Quality of Place.” I would argue Quality of Place is the most important component to the health of a community. We must do a better job of capitalizing on our unique assets – specifically our location on the Missouri River. A common question asked of Capitol Docents when giving Capitol tours is, “How do we get down to the river?” We have positive momentum and will continue working with funding partners to complete the bridge.
Beyond these projects, each of us needs to focus on increasing pride in our area – it is our home after all. Be proud of what we have to offer. If you see something you can make better, do it. If you see someone trying to make our community a better place, offer positivity. Just like AP Grimshaw and our chamber forefathers, together we will continue BUILDING BRIDGES TO THE FUTURE.