Economic Development News

Leveraging our assets to defend our local economy
Published: Friday, February 12, 2016
By: Randy Allen

"We need high paying jobs, but we must create and attract workforce that is able to fill those needs!  There is no one answer for economic growth in Jefferson City.  The question is multiple choice and the answer is all of the above."

What do we know?

Look around you. Watch television, read the newspaper, check Facebook and Twitter. Things are changing around us every day at a rapid pace. There is a war building against our national economy and so it goes for our local economy.

State government provided a substantial employment base of good paying, middle-class jobs, and during the 1970's 80's and 90's it grew at a pace that provided the base for real economic growth in Cole County and the region. At the same time, our national economy was providing steady growth and the manufacturing and service sectors were expanding. In Jefferson City  we were able to attract some of those expanding businesses and new jobs were created. In the early 2000’s things began to change. State government began to shrink its employment base and reduced about 4,000 jobs in Cole County. In addition, national companies began to outsource manufacturing and technology services to other countries with substantially lower wages.

Medium and large companies began to slow or even stop expansions in the United States. As a result of these economic stressors, in 2006 and 2010 the Chamber, as the economic development leader in our community, commissioned strategic plans to address some of these changing circumstances and how we might adapt to those changes and provide for future growth. Both of those reports indicated that the traditional economic development model alone was no longer relevant.

What have we done?

The proposed new model consisted of some traditional Economic Development activities as well as some new and modified activities. It can be summed up by a quote by Jon Roberts, TIP Strategies. He said there is no one answer for economic growth in Jefferson City. The question is multiple choice but the answer is all of the above. Hence the changes:

  • Business Attraction marketing should be continued but modified to be preparation oriented instead of “cast the net” marketing. This was due to the recognition of the limited expansion activity anticipated in the future. Achieve the “readiness” for Business Attraction possibilities. Invest in the Partnership Business Park at Algoa to achieve Site Certification.

  • Placing substantially more emphasis on improving Quality of Place, making us a more attractive community for young people. Quality of place is how others outside your community view you when making decisions on locating or expanding business.

  • Developing a stronger workforce to fill the employment needs of this century is essential.

  • Maintaining our community infrastructure and developing new amenities will supplement the underlying attractiveness we display.

  • Working with our existing businesses to facilitate expansion opportunities. 

We have modified our focus to also target unique projects such as the one-of–a-kind Special Olympics Training for Life Campus. SOMO was not looking to change locations from Boone County but we encouraged them to reconsider Jefferson City for their new location and we were successful.

Despite the loss of nearly 400 jobs at RR Donnelly in 2013, using the availability of that facility and a willing owner, our economic development partners were able to convince a St. Louis manufacturing firm to relocate their operation and 200 jobs to that facility.  This was a huge win for all and included partner participation to make it happen.  Once again leveraging our available facility and workforce.

Leveraging our existing strong manufacturing companies and using approved incentives, the Chamber facilitated expansion projects that led to the creation of nearly 1000 new jobs,  over $30M of ongoing payroll wages and almost $250M in additional investment in our local economy since 2007.

What will we do going forward?

More needs to be done to leverage the assets we have. We cannot wait for companies to accept our proposals to make Jefferson City their home.   We need to work to create some new opportunities that do not exist now that leverage our strengths. We also need to work to continue to improve our attractiveness to millennials so existing companies can grow.

This will lead to additional critical mass and potential growth in some of those sectors. Since 2007, the Chamber with continued support from the City and County has provided a first-class economic development program and has built relationships with local major businesses, site consultants and other economic principals.  We cannot control final business decisions to locate but we must be prepared as best we can to leverage all of our local assets to keep us in the game. 

For anyone that has read our annual reports over the last several years and conclude that the chamber is doing nothing but “sitting on its hands” is simply uninformed. Maybe this attitude is a result of the changing economic climate and not understanding the current objectives. Maybe it is a result of anger toward government and institutions like chambers of commerce as a whole. The truth is that we continue to provide the highest level of strategic and operational services necessary to facilitating economic and community growth.

Growing our small business sector, assisting with retaining and growing our manufacturing base, developing programs and services to improve our educational output so our workforce is prepared for the growth jobs now and in the future will be our primary focus.

Only with strong public-private partnerships can we succeed in these efforts. The Chamber included the 2016 Work Plan in the City and the County economic development contracts. This plan was developed after 6 months of discussions with the City, County and several experts on Economic Development. You can find this plan on our website and it will be reviewed, modified and completed with the assistance and input from city, county officials and chamber leaders. Public input along the way is highly encouraged. As always, I encourage your comments and questions and I look forward to hearing from you as we all work to move our community forward.

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