Local economy seeing uptick following recession
Unemployment, real estate, agriculture, tourism provide positive signs
With the rebounding of the real estate market, beef cattle production seeing record sales and an uptick of visitors at Roaring River State Park, experts are optimistic about the direction of the local economy.
Kelly Mills, president of the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce and assistant vice president at Freedom Bank, said the local economy appears to be moving in a positive direction.
"The local economy appears to be doing well and stabilizing," he said. "Businesses are hiring and the economy as a whole seems to be moving forward."
Mills pointed to area industries,
like Regal, who are looking for employees and making hires.
"The local job market is good and there are jobs to be had," he said. "There also appears for be more work orders for local industries. Regal says they've been pretty busy."
Even though one Cassville business, Luck-E-Strike, recently closed its doors, Mills said that closure should not have a noticeable effect on the local job market.
"I think there's enough industry here in Cassville, in Barry County and even in Arkansas that [Luck-E-Strike's closure] should not have an effect on the local job market," he said. "The only disadvantage is people who live here and worked here did not have to drive as far as they might now."
Mills said there are also many new opportunities in the southern Barry County area, as a new Walmart store is being built in Seligman, and two new dollar stores have been opened in Shell Knob and Eagle Rock.
"Walmart moving into Seligman will be a boost to jobs and to sales taxes, and there's new dollar stores in Shell Knob and Eagle Rock, so those are signs the job market is getting better," he said.
Cherry Warren, Barry County presiding commissioner, said the 10.7 percent increase in tax revenues this year may be a sign of a rebounding economy, but he is still cautious about what it could mean.
"There's been about a 6 percent increase for cities like Cassville and Monett, and the county is seeing a 10.7 percent increase," he said. "From a county perspective, we are cautiously optimistic things will hold at this level.
"We budgeted flat, and we never thought we'd see a 10.7 percent increase in the slightest. But, we'll take it, and it's better than being down 10 percent."
Mills said another boon to the local economy is Roaring River State Park, not only for its trout fishing, but for its camping, trails and scenery as well.
"Roaring River is a beautiful place, not just for fishing, but for hiking and recreation as well," he said. "It puts us on the map."
According to Linda Johnson, owner of American Dream Realty in Cassville, the local real estate market took a dive in the late 2000s, but is now on the rebound and getting back to a pre-recession state.
"I'm optimistic because there are a lot fewer repossessed homes on the market than last year, which means the market is stabilizing," she said. "I look forward to it being better this spring than in years past."
Johnson said after the housing bubble, which started in 2006 and dipped to its lowest point in 2012, repossessed homes saturated the market, which made things stagnant for a while.
"The market has been inching its way back to life in the past couple years, and there's a lot of younger people getting into the market because there are some good loans out there," Johnson said. "They are moving out of their parents' homes and trying to get out on their own."
According to numbers attained by Johnson through the Southwest Missouri Multiple Listing Service, the average price of a home in 2011 was $67,250. That number spiked to $80,000 in 2012, then dipped back to $65,000 in 2013, but is up to $83,000 this year.
The total number of home sales has been on the rise since 2011, which saw 62 sales. The number stayed consistent in 2012 with 65 sales, but rose in 2013 to 82, and 75 have been sold in 2014 as of the end of October. These figures do not include the Shell Knob area, which uses the Tri Lakes Multiple Listing Service system, a system Johnson said would definitely throw the figures into a higher bracket.
In 2014, the average selling price for a home in Cassville is $48,444.86; in Exeter, the average price is $56,391.90; in Washburn, the average price is $40,916.67; in Seligman, the average price is $40,716.76; in Purdy, the average price is $53,122.73; and in Wheaton, the average price is $44,849.
"There are a lot of parents around here who help their kids get into homes, and it's not always like that in other areas," Johnson said. "And the interest rates are very competitive and it has been a lot of the local banks financing because they know these people and are willing to stick their necks out a little more sometimes."
Johnson said the hometown aspect of real estate in Barry County, with local banks financing homes more than national conglomerates, such as Chase, help to keep dollars local and boost the economy even more.
"That definitely helps the local economy and helps keep that hometown life because we can keep that money here," she said.
Being one of the top five counties in Missouri when it comes to beef production, livestock in the area plays a big role in the local economy, and spikes in prices over the past few years have been putting smiles on the faces of area ranchers.
Warren, who himself raises cattle on his farm in rural Exeter, said he believes it's the agriculture industry that has helped most in the upward sales tax trend.
"Agriculture and the beef and feed industries are at an all-time high," he said. "People have been selling their cattle for higher prices and getting more money, and the 2012 drought disaster program has also helped.
"If not for agriculture, we would not be seeing the kind of growth we have this year."
Eldon Cole, regional livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said he is not hearing many complaints from area cattlemen.
"The economy has been pretty darn good for the farming public, especially for beef producers," he said. "It's been trending upward and everyone thinks it's as high as it can go, but this year has exceeded our highest expectations."
Cole said because of national and international shortages in beef cattle, there is higher demand for all kinds of cattle raised in Barry County.
"The big driver is the shortage of beef cows," he said. "It's been pretty tough for a number of years, and within the last five to six years, places hard-hit with droughts have been selling off all their cattle and trying to survive."
Cole said 2011 and 2012 were tough years, but the market grew in 2013 and is topping all expectations this year.
"Some statistics show we have the smallest cow herd nationwide since the 1950s, and we've decided we need to produce larger carcass weights, so even if we lose in numbers of cows, the beef weight stays consistent."
In 2010, the average price for a steer at auction was about $1,326. Cole said this spring, cows were selling for about $2,400, and he expects that price to spike even more to $2,800 or even $3,000 by the year's end.
"I don't think I've seen more smiles on cattlemen's faces than I have in the last six months," he said. "Here in southwest Missouri, where we have big numbers in beef cattle, we've even been able to save lots of replacement heifers to add to the herds and further stress the amount of production, which keeps the price high."
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Barry County ranks No. 5 in the state with $76,138 cattle and calves. Cole said the numbers fluctuate by a few thousand here and there, but Barry County averages about 35,000 to 40,000 beef cows at any given time.
Cole said because of the production, feed prices are beginning to drop.
"Corn and soybean feed prices are dropping, cattle prices are going up and there's a strong demand for domestic beef and exports," he said. "The planets have aligned perfectly for this amazingly good time period we are in."
One of the largest economic drivers in Barry County, and the pride and joy for many of its residents, is Roaring River State Park, a tourist attraction drawing thousands of people through the county each year.
According to Paul Spurgeon, Roaring River Trout Hatchery manager, the Department of Conservation, which oversees the hatchery, sold 109,549 daily trout tags to adults and youth during the March-to-October fishing season. That number has been on the rise over past years, and is up 12 percent since 2013, which saw 97,993 tags sold.
"The last four or five years we were down, probably because of the recession," Spurgeon said. "But, things have been fairly consistent at about 90,000 tags per year. This year, we're up to where we normally were about six or seven years ago."
Spurgeon said the tag sales do not include the two Kids' Fishing Day events, which brought another 2,077 children and their families to the park.
To keep pace with the increase in tags, the trout hatchery stocked 248,500 fish throughout the season, which comes to a rate of 2.27 fish per tag sold.
Tom Treiman, resource scientist at the Missouri Department of conservation Central Regional office in Columbia, said the attendance at Roaring River can have a big effect on the local economy.
"On average, people spend about $25 per person per day [when at a state park in Missouri]," he said.
If that figure holds true, tourism at the park generates about $2.7 million this year, compared to $2.5 million last year.
"It's only speculation, but I think during the recession, more people would fish or vacation closer to home," Treiman said. "But, the amount they would spend on a trip should not change very much."
From real estate to tax revenues to beef cattle production, all signs point to a bright future in Barry County.
Mills said the economy looks a lot stronger than in years past, and he is hopeful it will continue to grow.
"We are definitely stabilizing and on an upward rise from where we were five years ago," he said. "The housing market is getting better and low interest rates are giving people some buying power."
Johnson said she is excited to see what the next few years will bring in the real estate market.
"All over, I see a lot of optimism, a lot more than last year," she said. "Things were very different five years ago, and everyone was struggling. Now, I see a lot more smiles, especially with young people who were devastated to have to stay with mom and dad or have to rent for forever.
"I knew it would come back up again, but they didn't know or have the experience, so they were scared."
Cole said on the livestock side, continued high demand will keep cattle prices high, boosting the economy along the way.
"There is high buyer interest for all kinds of cattle, and that creates a ripple effect throughout the beef industry," he said.
Warren said although county tax revenues are up 10.7 percent this year, he is still remaining cautious.
"We are pleasantly surprised we've had this increase in tax revenues, but we are not firmly convinced it will continue at this rate through 2015," he said.
Warren said the county hopes to use the excess revenues to build up the reserve fund, in case another downturn hits and causes any problems.