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Morning Sun
  • JRPI presents regional economic development outlook

  • Local and regional economic development took center stage Tuesday evening at the Pittsburg City Commission meeting. With the budget preparation season winding down, commissioners took time to learn about what is going on in the region to keep the area's communities strong for years to come.

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  • Local and regional economic development took center stage Tuesday evening at the Pittsburg City Commission meeting.
    With the budget preparation season winding down, commissioners took time to learn about what is going on in the region to keep the area's communities strong for years to come.
    Representatives from the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative and the Joplin Regional Partnership spoke about the past, present and future of each initiative.
    Rob O'Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said in the mid-1990s Joplin, Carthage and Neosho realized they were attending many of the same trade shows, and opted to attend together representing Southwest Missouri, and also began strengthening relationships with peers across the boarder.
    "It doesn't make sense for all three of us to be paying to be here when we could be together and have a stronger presence on behalf of everyone," O'Brian said.
    In 2008, the collaboration grew to include Pittsburg and Cherokee County, and the entity was renamed the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative (JRPI).
    At the time, goals of supporting and growing existing businesses, developing a stronger workforce, enhancing entrepreneurship and small business and attracting new, quality companies, were outlined.
    O'Brian said the collaboration worked well.
    "Site consultants want to go one place and get information on 20 communities," he said. "They don't want to call 20 communities."
    The May 2011 tornado caused a reset, even as the group grew with the addition of Parsons and Labette County.
    The group hired Market Street Services to do an intense study on the area, and found positive gains over the past 13 years in educational attainment, but that the area still has challenges.
    "We are still having issues in getting the average wage up," O'Brian said. "We don't have as much prosperity as we would like to have."
    He said a significant number of people in the area remain in poverty, and that needs to be addressed.
    But, the area also is well-liked by those in it, and the manufacturing and educational opportunities in the area were very positive indicators in t he study.
    "At the end of the day, (we asked) 'What's our greatest strength?' and the answer was people," O'Brian said.
    The greatest challenge identified for the area was jobs, specifically higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs that will help reduce the poverty trends.
    Now, new goals are in place, with plans that over the next five years the region will be a place to learn and advance, the region will be  a place to work and prosper, the region will be a place to live and thrive and the region will be a place to recognize and celebrate.
    Page 2 of 2 - "The process of implementation of this particular region and plan is pretty awesome," said Mark Turnbull, director of JRPI.
    He outlined implementation plans for each of the goals, starting with workforce.
    "The workforce is a key, if not the key issue of economic development," he said for goal one, which includes forming the Regional Talent Partnership this year and developing a regional job clearinghouse.
    Goal two entails expanding revolving loan fund resources, and strategies involving business, technology and education.
    Ensuring the region will be a place to live and thrive entails working for housing for the workforce and raising the region's reception through marketing, among other work.
    Initial ways of recognizing and celebrating the region include forming a regional council of governments and crafting legislative agendas to benefit the region.
    "We have a community and region we are proud of and a story we want to tell," Turnbull said.
    Kevin Welch, director of the Joplin Regional Partnership also shared about the work he is doing to raise awareness of the area's benefits and resources across the country and throughout the world.
    Locally, the Pittsburg City Commission also discussed local economic development and approved an addendum to the Economic Development Services Agreement between the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Pittsburg  for the chamber to continue providing economic development services through the remainder of 2013, and a second approval was granted to extend that contract through 2014.
    After brief discussion, commissioners also approved Phase III of the Downtown Facade Grant Program, which allocates using $50,000 from the Revolving Loan Fund to match facade investments made by business owners in the downtown district.
    The previous two phases provided $200,000 each, but Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said the economic development advisory committee did not feel the need was as big as in years past.
    Commissioners also accepted a low bid from Strukel Electric of Girard for $356,847.75 to replace the lighting on runways at the airport. This cost includes adding a supplemental agreement within the project. All phases of the project together will cost $503,534, of which the city's portion will be $50,353 following application of an FAA grant that will pay 90 percent of the costs, which the city also approved Tuesday.
    Bill Beasley, director of public works, said the investment ultimately will save the city on energy usage and repair costs in the long run.
    Council members also adopted the proposed 2014 budget for publication, and will conduct a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13.
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