One last reminder that the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce 55th Annual Awards Banquet is coming up Thursday, April 7, at the Sikeston Field House beginning at 6:30 p.m. Please contact the Chamber office at 471-2498 immediately if you plan to attend.
I would like comment this month on the activities of the Southeast Missouri Economic Development Alliance (SMEDA). The consortium was formed in October 2003 and has grown from the original three counties of Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi to include Dunklin, Pemiscot and Stoddard counties. The Alliance has now held two conferences - the latest one was April 1 at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center. The featured speaker was David Kolzow, a site location consultant. Representatives for all six counties were present to learn the latest information in business location. The representatives also broke into small groups to discuss infrastructure, promotion and quality of life issues in southeast Missouri.
Some people have questioned the importance of this Alliance and these conferences that are held each fall and spring. Why do we need and economic development alliance? Here is a small example ... when a business/
manufacturer looks at setting up shop they usually are not looking at a specific city, they are looking at a region.
There could be many issues involved in their decision to locate such as, available workforce, a reasonably priced property, perhaps some tax incentives or preferred utility rates. They may need rail or river port service, easy access to interstate system, the list can go on and on. Consultants really don't want to talk to 20 different people to find one site, they prefer one maybe two contacts.
A problem in our region of southeast Missouri is there is no "one source" for information. In fact, not all cities have economic development staff and some counties have no economic development staff or economic development staff that have multiple job responsibilities.
In Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas regional consortiums formed over the years have shown success in luring businesses to their areas with regional marketing and "one-stop shopping" so to speak. A site consultant is able to contact the regional alliance and get the information they need to fit their operation.
The alliance staff person represents all counties and communities equally. They do not take away from the work of local economic developers or chambers of commerce, they actually enhance the efforts of these local entities. Yes, each city and county wants to land the next big employer but successful regional partnerships have realized in order to survive in today's global economy we have to work together by region.
If a new manufacture locates in Charleston, sure Sikeston or Miner, would like to have the plant, but it benefits Sikeston and Miner to have the plant in Charleston versus Osceola, Ark., or Dyersburg, Tenn., because some of those Charleston employees may live in Miner or Sikeston or will come to us for support services in the retail or medical area.
The alliance staff can take the consultants' requirements and say in our six-
county region "these three communities fit the bill." At that point if there is local staff available to work the lead, they are brought in and the alliance staff is there to assist if needed and to guarantee the prospect is followed through. If no local staff is available, then the alliance staff person will work the lead and follow it through to the end. The alliance staff can also be helpful in helping existing businesses meet their expansion needs.
To the old school in economic development this is a difficult concept to accept, but it is reality. The Tennessee alliance, for example, has brought in over 5,000 jobs in the last two years in addition to millions of dollars in construction and improvements. We have examples in our region where before the Alliance started we lost businesses to the area because the city handling the inquiry could not meet the requirements and because there was not one regional agency to pick up the lead and try to locate it in another community in southeast Missouri, the business was lost to the area as a whole.
Now since the Alliance has started communication on leads has improved, but we still need Alliance staff to be the continuity and oversee the follow up. We are in a fight with our neighboring states for business and jobs and we need to make sure every possible resource is used and exhausted to keep this region from washing away. In order for an Alliance to work it requires teamwork from the chambers, cities and counties and in this time of government cutbacks it requires financial support from the private sector. If a community wants to grow it is going to require a commitment of time and money from everyone including existing business. It may sound a little harsh, but I see our region at a critical juncture and we have to move forward and change our ways or die. The Southeast Missouri Economic Development Alliance is our first step to providing an economic development network committed to marketing and developing southeast Missouri.
As for the conferences held twice a year, these gatherings bring city, county, state and private sector members together to address regional issues and to learn. We will need to continue to learn about new ways to attract new business and support growth in our existing business community. These conference encourage a more open and better communication between communities.
The Southeast Missouri Economic Development Alliance needs everyone's support. If you have a business in southeast Missouri you should get involved by donating your time and money.
If you want to help and need more information about SMEDA you may contact me at 471-2498 or our current chairman Steve McPheeters. As always for more information about the Chamber and for more information about SMEDA activities go to our Website at www.sikeston.net.