Sikeston competes with many industries worldwide
SIKESTON -- Keeping established employers and their employees in Sikeston isn't too difficult. It's bringing new businesses to the area that proves challenging.
The top 15 Sikeston area businesses employ about 5,125 people with a combined total annual payroll of about $210 million. These businesses each employ at least 110 people.
Rounding out the top five businesses in the area are Noranda Aluminum, Missouri Delta Medical Center, Good Humor-Breyers, Sikeston R-6 School District and Sikeston Wal-Mart.
Most of these industries have a low turnover rate and employ mostly residents from Sikeston and the surrounding communities, their managers said.
For example, Scott Moore, human resources manager for Good Humor-
Breyers, said its 800 employees are pulled from about a 30-mile radius, coming from Sikeston, Cape Girardeau, Portageville and Dexter. A few travel from the Cairo, Ill., area to work at the Sikeston plant. The business has a turnover rate of less than 1 percent, Moore said.
And James Moss of Gates Rubber Co. in Charleston, which employs 140 residents from Mississippi, Scott, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Stoddard and Cape counties and Alexander County in Illinois, said the rubber hose manufacturer has a high percentage of workers who have 25 years of service at the plant.
"My No. 1 priority is to keep those 5,000 jobs and add to them. You have to take care of the customers you have first and help with their problems," said Sikeston Director of Economic Development Ed Dust.
When Dust began his job as economic development director three years ago, there were almost 1 million square feet of empty buildings or available space. Now all but 200,000 square feet have been filled, he said.
"We're still working on filling those spaces," Dust said.
Among the vacant buildings in Sikeston are the structure on South Main Street, which previously housed Sikeston Market Place, and the building in the Village Green shopping area that Big Lots once vacated.
"We recently met with the owners of the (Village Green) building and basically told them we think the building is outdated and should be torn down. We suggested they build something new to better fit the area," Dust said.
The most recent industry to locate to Sikeston was Ace Building Systems, which announced its opening in June. Dust said it took a year to complete the deal that brought some 50 jobs to the community.
Dust said there's a project or two in the works, but he prefers to be tight-
lipped on them for now.
"If you talk about them, it's like a kiss of death." Dust said.
Dust said he's been proactive in recruiting retail by annually attending a couple trade shows and expos, where discussion focuses on real estate and networking.
"When I started my career, we were competing with states in the United States. Now we compete worldwide," Dust said.
In addition to attending trade shows, Dust said many prospect leads come from Sikeston's Web site.
"If you don't have a good Web site or if they're not impressed, you don't get phone calls," Dust said, adding Sikeston has a very good Web site. "That's what I'm told from people I've dealt with."
And just being hospitable to visitors can help bring new employers to town, Dust said. In fact the biggest reason Dust hears from those who opt not to bring an industry to the community is that they don't get a positive feeling from the community.
"You never know who is walking into your business," Dust said. "You don't know who you may be influencing. You should always try to treat them like company."
Sikeston often competes with 30,000 to 35,000 other communities for the same business prospect, Dust said.
"Every time you lose one, it's for a different reason," Dust said, adding he can't pinpoint one reason. "If it's better for them to locate somewhere else for a legitimate reason, then that's fine, but if it's something we could've done differently, then that's not good."
Residents also try to provide Dust with leads for prospects to Sikeston, but it's often hearsay or misinformation, Dust said. To follow-up, Dust needs a contact person and phone number, which aren't often supplied, he said.
Also something that would help boost employment in the area is if those who leave the area to further their education would return to Sikeston, Dust said. "We lose a lot of people who never come back, and we're trying to turn that around," Dust said.
Some industries like Noranda Aluminum in New Madrid, which employs about 1,100 people from 40 communities and five states, offer incentives such as maintenance scholarships to Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College.
About 10 students are in Noranda's program right now, Steve McPheeters, superintendent of training and communication at Noranda. Upon graduation, the students agreed to work for Noranda for a few years, he said. Noranda also has an internal apprentice program.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1990, about 17,640 people lived in Sikeston; in 2000, about 16,900 people lived here; and in 2006, about 17,160 people were estimated to be living here.
"We've turned the corner and are getting a little growth," Dust said.
Meanwhile, Dust said he's anxious to see the new Census.
"We are out there every day to grow," Dust said.