Drops in the average median income and sales tax receipts and increasing housing costs are some of the reasons Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, thinks the Columbia City Council should make the local economy a main priority.
“I wish that the council would have the same value for job retention as they have for community amenities,” Stamper said at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The impact that an economic slide has had on businesses is one of Stamper’s major concerns.
“I appreciate the council and their efforts,” Stamper said. “But we’re feeling the pain of the sales tax because we are seeing it on the bottom line every day.”
Stamper thinks council members have not paid enough attention to local economic factors, especially when it came to discussions at the council’s retreat in May.
“At their recent retreat, attention was paid to setting regulations and ordinances, but virtually nothing was directed at improving the local economy,” Stamper said. “I hope that council does some research of its own to see the options available.”
Stamper thinks there are three key steps that should be taken to help the economy. The first, he said, was to acknowledge that “we have an issue.” The second step is to ensure that the city takes advantage of the technology and research jobs coming out of MU. Last, he said the council should be more active in job recruiting and retention.
“They need to be the cheerleaders,” Stamper said. “They need to be out there showing enthusiasm for job creation and retention. Don’t get me wrong, we need parks and trails in the area, but we need enthusiasm for job creation as well as other things in the community.”
Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said that Stamper’s comments were “very valid” and that it is important for the City Council to keep in mind the local economy.
“The economic vitality of the (commmunity) demands the attention of everyone in the community, certainly City Council,” Laird said. “Keeping the economy as vital as possible allows City Council to increase the amenities for the community.”
Bernie Andrews, president of Regional Economic Development Inc., said there has been some economic decline within the city.
“There is no denying that trends are down,” Andrews said. “Due to plant closures and downsizing, we have potentially 400 fewer jobs than two years ago.”
Despite the current slide, Andrews said that there is no reason for alarm.
“Long term, we are trying to put things in place to bring jobs to the community,” Andrews said. “Discovery Ridge will create high-wage jobs, and it is also an imperative and positive step to have the research parks as well.”
Andrews said that although there have been slight declines in some local economic areas, interest in moving a business to Columbia is up.
But within the scope of long-term economic growth, results do not happen overnight.
“Economic development is a long-term process. We have to put in infrastructure and time before we will see the rewards of our investment,” Andrews said.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she both agrees and disagrees with Stamper.
“I acknowledge that Columbia has slowed down economically, but I don’t think we (the City Council) are just sitting by and hoping things will turn out better,” Nauser said.
Nauser said that the city is attempting to attract new businesses and that downtown revitalization could give future businesses more options. The city is also trying to increase capacity of Columbia Regional Airport to create and foster industry.
“There’s a lot of things on the table that just have not made it to the public hearing process,” Nauser said.
Stamper maintains that while jobs can be created through the council’s efforts, it’s the quality of the jobs that is important.
“The keys to a strong economy are high-paying and high-quality jobs,” Stamper said. “We need competitive jobs and right now, we are not as competitive as we need to be.”
City Manager Bill Watkins said that although some of Stamper’s comments were valid, both the city and its partners in the area would be good to look at the future.
“I don’t know that Don Stamper was entirely on-base or off. I think he brings up important points that need to be considered not only by the city, but the community as a whole,” Watkins said. “There is a lot of focus on the problems. Let’s focus on some solutions.”