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Morning Sun
  • Regional economic prospects discussed

  • Economic prosperity may be most attainable through a group effort that crosses county and state lines, according to leaders of the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative.

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    Economic prosperity may be most attainable through a group effort that crosses county and state lines, according to leaders of the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative.

    They gave a presentation Friday during the Crawford County Commission meeting.

    “We aren’t asking you today for a thing,” said Mark Turnbull, JRPI director of regional strategies, former economic development director for the City of Pittsburg. “We want to get you informed and energized.”

    Rob O’Brian, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce president, said the group started off in 1997 with a collaboration between Joplin, Carthage and Neosho, Mo.

    “We’d be at regional shows looking at each other and thinking we’d do better working together,” O’Brian said.

    The communities began attending trade shows under a “Southwest Missouri” banner, which later grew to include Barton, Jasper and Newton Counties.

    “We also strengthened our relationships with economic development peers in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma,” O’Brian said.

    This is important, he said, because of the fluid labor force in the region.

    “People live where they want and work where they can get a job,” O’Brian said. “County and state
    lines don’t mean a whole lot to these people.”

    The campaign name of Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative was developed and in 2008 began planning for a five-year funding cycle. A total of $3.7 million was raised by 2009.

    “We really began rolling out in 2010, and Parsons and Labette County joined in 2011,” O’Brian said.

    The tornado that hit Joplin on May 22, 2011, had a huge economic impact.“At one time we had 5,000 jobs at risk from businesses affected, and we decided a new regional plan was needed,” O’Brian said.

    Market Street Services conducted a study from February to October 2012 and developed a strategy process including public input focus groups for each of the seven counties involved in JRPI. 

    “The key findings were that the region’s greatest strength is its people, and the greatest weakness or challenge is jobs,” said Clifford Wert, JRPI chairman. “We have a poverty level we have to address. We want to lower poverty and raise the wages.”

    Page 2 of 3 - The good thing, Wert added, is that once people get to the region, they like it.

    “We need to develop a foundation of higher-paying jobs, and we need to attract and retain graduates from the region’s colleges and universities,” he said. “Our strategy will be carried out in the next five years.”

    Turnbull noted that JRPI doesn’t expect to solve all the region’s problems from Day One.

    “Some of the problems are lingering one,” he said.

    Targeted for  Year One, from July 2013 to June 2014, is the formation of a Regional Talent Partnership, development and launching of a regional job clearinghouse web site and expansion of revolving loan resources.

    “We also plan to expand existing business retention and expansion activities and create a case management system for targeted types of businesses,” Turnbull said. “We know that a lot of jobs will come from businesses we already have.”

    He said that one of the most exciting things to him is the concept of an Innovation Corridor that would utilize the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology Center, Missouri Center for Advanced Power Systems, Kansas Technology Center and other higher education institutions.

    “We will also need to ensure housing development now and in the future to meet the demands of the workforce,” Turnbull said. “One problem we face is shrinking budgets — how do you do more with less? We have the best elected officials here, so we’re forming a regional Council of Governments.
    There are opportunities to pull money into our region that we’re not getting.”

    An external marketing effort is also needed to raise perception of the region.

    Kevin Welch, director of the Kansas Regional Partnership, is the marketing arm of the effort.

    “Basically, I go out and get the word out about the region,” he said. “We go to trade  shows. I was at Long Beach earlier this year for the aerospace industry. We talk to site consultants. When companies are deciding where to locate, they go to site consultants. A lot of them are surprised to see what we already have here.”

    Page 3 of 3 - That includes, Welch said, good transportation and low taxes. “There are over 50 trucking companies in the region and shortline railroads, including Watco,” he said. “More companies are reshoring, leaving China and Europe. We have four times the national average of machinists in our region, so we have a good work force  for manufacturing jobs. The Kansas Technology Center at Pitt State is world-class.”

    “This is all a common sense approach,” Turnbull said after the meeting. “There’s nothing fancy about it. We need to keep the students here and we need advanced manufacturing jobs.”
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