Economic developer outlines goals to improve Pulaski County economy
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 8:25 pm
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Jan. 13, 2010) — When Waynesville-St. Robert Chamber of Commerce officials announced their lineup of speakers for an upcoming televised community forum on economic and community development, they included one participant whose primary duties focus on that work.
Wayne Morgan, the executive director of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, will join Col. Charles Williams, the Fort Leonard Wood Garrison Commander, St. Robert Mayor George Sanders, Waynesville Mayor Cliff Hammock, Waynesville R-VI School Superintendent Judene Blackburn, and U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Laurie Patton-Glasson at the Jan. 25 forum held at the Waynesville High School Library. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the participants will give opening comments and then take questions from audience members and the media.
While the event will be televised on Cable Channel 12, questions cannot be received by telephone and must be submitted in person to forum moderator Mike Dunbar, who serves as Chamber of Commerce president.
Participating in the televised forum will be a first for Morgan, who said he looks forward to what he sees as an opportunity to explain his role with the Pulaski County Growth Alliance to the community.
“The organization itself is still at its fairly infant stages,” Morgan said. “I plan on doing an update on where we started, where we are at and where we plan to be at, so I would say the bulk of my presentation will be from last year when we started. I’ll talk about those things that we have accomplished, I’ll probably have a top-10 list (which) will be the highlights of 2009. Then I will go into the 2010 goals and objectives that we’re setting up.”
While Morgan said he’d like to give specifics on future economic growth, that isn’t always possible.
“Everybody always wants to know, ‘When’s the new business coming to town,’” Morgan said. “The thing that most people need to remember is in many projects, there is a confidentiality that must be imposed. My experience over the years has shown that some projects walk away if that confidentiality is broken, so many times we are not in a position to give information that we may know based on that confidentiality that we must maintain.”
General information should be easier to communicate, however.
“I think that probably a lot of people would like to see where we see this county being in five years, which is part of the strategic planning process. We certainly want to look at what we can try to accomplish this year, but we also like to look at down the road where we expect this community to be in five years,” Morgan said. “This county really has not suffered that much downturn, and what you will see happening and you’ve already seen happen is we’ll be putting some incentive programs in place that will attract industry.”
While the national economy is suffering, Morgan said the military role of Fort Leonard Wood helps the area considerably.
“It’s not a rocket science thing to know that the military is the driving force for this county and this area,” Morgan said. “It has always been some peaks and valleys based on what the military has done.”
That’s insulated Pulaski County from national economic problems for many years, not just recently.
“Years ago in counties such as this one, we could have some economic development in jobs through light industry; about every community either had a shoe factory or a garment factory,” Morgan said. “Unfortunately the times and economics have changed to where those jobs will probably not be back to this county or any county in the state of Missouri or in the United States, period. We’ll be looking at different types of jobs, more high-tech jobs, certainly jobs that will be related to the military, which makes a good fit that some of those folks with the base that’s here would want to locate here.”
Placement along two major transit routes — Interstate 44 but also the BNSF Railroad — is also a helpful factor for Pulaski County, Morgan said.
“I have talked to some of my colleagues at the Missouri Partnership about I-44 corridor marketing efforts. You get into many parts of the state, they don’t have an interstate. The interstate is a real tool to attract business and industry,” Morgan said. “(In northeast Missouri) there are no roads up in those areas and it is very difficult for them to attract any business or industry to locate, and if you look at the populations, those counties have all lost populations over the years and it’s because of the infrastructure that they don’t have.”
Missouri once had a 15-year plan to improve state-to-state and regional intrastate roads between most cities of 10,000 or more people, but Morgan said that will be very difficult with the current economic situation which means lack of good roads will continue to harm local economies in areas without major four-lane road access.
While the northern part of Pulaski County doesn’t have four-lane roads and is miles away from Interstate 44, Morgan said the BNSF railroad could become an advantage for communities such as Richland, Crocker and Dixon. However, relying on railroads for economic growth can be problematic for smaller communities without the ability to pay to upgrade or construct sideline rail spurs.
“I have seen particularly the last three to four years, the main criteria for projects has been rail,” Morgan said. “Communities that don’t have rail, you don’t have that opportunity to get those projects to come to your community. I think the Chinese influence of shipping everything on containers has been a real factor in companies starting to look back at rail again, and the other thing we experienced two years ago was the cost of fuel. The fuel prices made it more likely that rail could have a comeback.”
“The thing that we got away from in the late 80s and early 90s was that everybody was looking for ‘just in time.’ That way they wouldn’t have to warehouse so much,” Morgan said. “But I think the problem that the northern part of this county has is even though they have rail going through there, the communities have not identified large enough sites that can utilize that rail capability.”
Sites that utilize rail typically require at least 100 acres and often 200 acres or more, Morgan said.
“The challenge that Dixon, Richland and Crocker have is that they’ve got to put together a sizeable acreage that would house an operation that would have a siderail that could go to the main track,” Morgan said. “It is a plus to have (rail), it’s easier to work with something than if you don’t have something, but still there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Companies sometimes even want communities to foot the bill to construct a siderail from the main railroad track to their proposed factory site, and that’s probably not viable in Pulaski County’s northern cash-strapped towns.
“There’s not enough funding in those communities right now to do something like that,” Morgan said.
The existence of roads and rail isn’t enough, Morgan said; according to him, the leaders of Pulaski County and its communities need to work harder to provide incentives for businesses to relocate to Pulaski County.
“The first void that I saw is there was no enhanced enterprise zone for this county, which all of our neighbors have, so we were not competitive … if we are going to compete with our neighbors, we have to have the same tools that they have to present to those companies that might want to come to our area,” Morgan said. “We’re in the process of still finding all of those tools that we need to make us attractive.”
Morgan noted that improving Pulaski County’s economy requires cooperation between many different units of government, and while he understands that some communities may want more information about the enhanced enterprise zone concept, all need to work together if the area is to effectively move forward.
“Economic development is a team sport; it’s not played by one person. You have to have all of your cities involved, you have to have your county involved, you have to have private enterprise involved,” Morgan said. “I think that’s very good that (some communities are) cautious and want to look at it, but right now there are about 70 communities which have adopted this, and I have had the ordinance gone over by the Department of Economic Development and so I feel very confident that once (each city’s) lawyers look at it they won’t find a problem with it.”
What does success look like for Morgan and the Pulaski County Growth Alliance?
“We’re working for the next three years with those individuals who are in private enterprise as well as the municipalities and the county to work to bring new business here,” Morgan said. “I think what you will see as a determining factor of whether this program goes or doesn’t is one, whether the sales tax dollars continue to increase, and two, if the unemployment numbers go down. Those are the two real indicators of whether a program is working or not.”
“We’ll see at the end of the three years (for) those two indicators, which way they’ve gone,” Morgan said. “If we haven’t had new investment come to the community and we haven’t had our unemployment levels go down, well then, maybe there needs to be somebody else to do the job, but we will certainly put out a strategic plan that we thing can accomplish those goals and we’ll see what happens.”