Economic development group sets goals

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

School, business, county, city leaders meet to discuss future

A group of 14 people met recently as part of the Community Education and Economic Impact Committee, organized to set goals for growing the local economy through new businesses, tourism and education.

Coordinating the effort is Ron Reed, of Houston, Mo., the city of Cassville’s new part-time economic developer. Reed brings more than 20 years of experience to the committee and is working with local schools, financial institutions, businesses and industries to help Cassville and Barry County grow.

“The first thing we have to ask is, what are the needs of these groups?” Reed said. “The No. 1 thing in helping a local economy grow is recognizing 80 percent of job creation comes from employers already in the area. I’m a real believer that the passion of someone to stay in the area is key, and economic developers are constantly trying to find young professionals who want to build their lives in one place.”

Reed said a couple things working in Barry County’s favor include low unemployment and strong per capita income, however, he said some people in the area may be underemployed.

“You don’t want a cheap labor force,” he said. “You want jobs that pay well. You want to try to elevate those $8 and $9 an hour employees without crippling current businesses and industries. You don’t want to trample one group to get to another.”

Reed said 55-60 percent of local graduates move away, and southwest Missouri is known for having bright, hand-eye coordinated, trainable people.

“The critical part is to hold on to everyone you can, or bring them back,” Reed said. “This committee must be adept and conscious of that and must put the focus on elevating that young group so they stay.”

One way to keep young people in the area is through the tech industry. JR Smith, goBEC fiber network manager, said with the new fiber service in Cassville and continually expanding in barry County, the backbone is there for new industry in the area.

“We should try to attract the IT industry by making Cassville a smart city,” he said. “That would entail things like free WiFi in the parks, light-sensitive dimmers on street lamps and internet that gives people the ability to work from home. We have the backbone for all that built, and the opportunity isa ripe to plant the seed.”

Wade Hermansen, owner of Dry Gulch Gifts in Exeter, said if it is a goal to bring in people who end up working from home, building a sense of community is key.

“Those who work from home will have to find ways to assimilate into the town, so things like the YMCA and showing the culture of Barry County are big,” he said.

Another suggestion came from Phil Hutchens, president of Hutchens Construction in Cassville.

“Why not go after the aging population?” he said. “They have disposable income, and we don’t have a lot of the things young people enjoy, like movie theaters, etc. But, we do have Table Rock Lake, Roaring River State Park, good medical care and plenty of walking trails.”

Chad Johnson, owner of Johnson Chiropractic in Cassville, said in his business, baby boomers make up the biggest generation he sees.

“An assisted living apartment complex for that group would be a great thing to get here,” he said.

Steve Walensky, Cassville city administrator, said the suggestions prove the point of why the committee was created.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “We should be looking at people in all walks of life and the different skill sets they bring. We’ve talked about getting a new YMCA, and there’s an opportunity there to become more competitive on multiple fronts.”

Walensky said a recent economic workshop he attended listed the top 10 ingredients for the best living environment.

“We had all 10 of them,” he said. “One thing that preached was that quality of life is becoming more and more sought than just high wages.”

Jon Horner, president of Security Bank, said with Cassville is hub for south Barry County, and average growth of 1 percent annually can be improved.

“We don’t boom, but we don’t bust,” he said.

Moving forward, the committee hopes to gather as many ideas as possible and formulate a direction and set of goals to begin moving forward. Reed is coordinating that effort as a funnel for any information or suggestions.

“Tell me anything you would like to see addressed,” Reed said. “We are serious about anything and everything.”

Anyone in the community may also offer suggestions to Reed, who officially started at his position on Tuesday. An email, phone and website are being set up for him, but for now, anyone with suggestions may call Cassville City Hall at 417-847-4441 and ask for Reed or Walensky.

Those involved in the Community Education and Economic Impact Committee include: Richard Asbill, Cassville schools superintendent; Eric White, co-director of learning at Cassville schools; Traci Mitchell, co-director of learning at Cassville schools; Corky Stehlik, local businessman; Jon Horner, president of Security Bank; Stan Kelley, president of Freedom Bank; Mindi Artherton, Communications Liaison at Cassville school; Gary Youngblood, newly-elected presiding commissioner of Barry County; Hutchens; Hermansen; Walensky; Reed; Smith; and Johnson.

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