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SMEDA is partner in development

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Scott County shouldn't miss out on opportunities from the state level

BENTON -- Having the Southeast Missouri Economic Development Alliance in place means this area won't miss out on opportunities "funneled down" from the state level.

Missy Marshall, executive director for the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce, met with Scott County commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday to provide an update on SMEDA.

Marshall was recently appointed to represent Scott County on SMEDA's board. Ed Dust, director of the Sikeston Department of Economic Development, was named as the county's alternate.

"The state of Missouri has moved to a semi-private entity for economic development," Marshall said.

Since being formed a little over a year ago, this entity, The Missouri Partnership, has acted as the "economic development arm for the state," according to Marshall. "This just got fully staffed this fall."

The Missouri Partnership, which has its main office in St. Louis and a satellite office in Kansas City, hired economic development experts from around the state and country, Marshall said.

Operating on both private and state funding, The Missouri Partnership funnels business leads to the local level, she said.

"They only will deal with regional entities," Marshall said. "They don't want to deal with 12 different cities -- they want to deal with one person."

Marshall said as a not-for-profit organization such as SMEDA has less restrictions than private for-profit and government entities, it is a model many regions have used to coordinate economic development efforts. "We're not unique," she said.

SMEDA officials have met with representatives from The Missouri Partnership three times since it was formed to "get them acquainted with southeast Missouri and what we have to offer," Marshall said. "We were one of the first ones to make contact with The Missouri Partnership."

While SMEDA founders did not anticipate something like The Missouri Partnership being put into place, "we were ready to go," she said.

Marshall said a regional organization such as SMEDA is important to economic development efforts. "When the companies are looking for a site they don't want to deal with a million people, they want to deal with one," she said.

Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said he would like to see efforts made to attract "smokestack industries" like Noranda and power plants to the county.

Marshall said with the economy as it is now, few communities would turn down a smokestack industry.

She said smoke stack industries are choosing offshore locations but that may change due to political instability in many of those other countries. "We may see some of those companies come back," Marshall said.

Marshall said while SMEDA is still using the county's ready and affordable workforce, reasonable cost of living and reasonable utility rates to attract businesses, they are now doing a biomass study to look into other opportunities, she said.

"We have a lot of biomass," Marshall said, which she explained is "a density of crop production, forestry. ... Biomass creates business opportunity."

The results of the biomass study should be available in the spring after which SMEDA officials will consider what kind of businesses this aspect could attract, she said: "We will broaden the scope and look at all sorts of possibilities."

The SACC "is committed to the SMEDA group," Marshall added. "It's a good alliance for Scott County to be a part of."

In other business during Tuesday's meeting:

* Scott County University of Missouri Extension Service staff and board members presented their annual report to commissioners.

The Extension's budget request, which was submitted last week, is for the same amount as last year: $37,440.

"We always commend them on being able to hold their costs down and continuing to provide the services they provide," Burger said.

Burger said there are many educational opportunities available through the Extension.

"It's a good thing for all our youth of Scott County," he said.

"I think Scott County residents have no idea of all the services the Extension Council can provide," Burger added. "I'd like to see residents take advantage of the Extension Council we have in Scott County."

Burger also discussed the proposed half-cent sales tax proposal that will be on the ballot Feb. 3 with Extension representatives.

"That's the only thing on the ballot so it should be a fairly light turnout," he said.

The ballot language requires the abatement of all the county's share of property tax for the duration of the eight-year tax so the abatement is ensured regardless of who is elected to the county commission, according to Burger.

"It is a good thing for Scott County and a good thing for the citizens," he said.

Burger said he and the other commissioners are always willing to speak to any group about the proposed tax.

"I don't want anybody to think there are any smoke and mirrors," he said.

* Marshall asked commissioners to consider posting county commission meeting agendas and minutes on the county's Web site, www.scottcountymo.com, for "people who are looking for what is coming up or what has happened."

Some area governments, such as the city of Sikeston, already are posting agendas on their Web sites, she said.

Marshall said SACC staff are often asked about agendas and minutes and refer inquiries to Web sites when they can.