Attracting industry to fill the many vacant industrial zoned lots could benefit the city, said Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku.
Janku requested an assessment of vacant industrial zoned land in Columbia on May 21 after he heard discussions in the community concerning the issue. According to Janku, community members were concerned that the amount of land needed for industrial use far outnumbered the amount of available industrial land.
The study, which was conducted by Regional Economic Development Inc., used the same criteria for site consideration as it used in a similar 1995 study. The criteria included a minimum site size of 20 acres, proper industrial zoning, reasonable topography, significant infrastructure and a willing seller.
In 1995, a total of 11 sites were identified, while only 10 sites met the criteria in the recent study. Of the 10 sites, only four are for sale and being actively marketed for industrial use. Six other sites remain unavailable due to owners’ unwillingness to sell or owners not actively marketing the site for industrial use, according to the study. Sites closer to residential developments are being marketed for residential or commercial use.
According to REDI’s report, Columbia is being considered by food manufacturing companies that are looking for over 40 acres of land with high infrastructure needs. Currently, only one industrial site can accommodate such a project.
“The advantage would be that a company considering us for location would have several alternatives (of sites) they may consider,” Economic Development Director Bernie Andrews said. “They might pick one over the other, but if we have only one alternative or none, they’re more likely to remove us from further consideration.”
“The extent of this problem wasn’t clear before,” Janku said. “What this report indicates is that land zoned for development turned out not to be on the market. I think we need to work on this to address the issue.,
Wendell Henrikson, one heir to the Sutter site in northern Columbia, says his family’s 231 acres are not being marketed, but they might be willing to sell for the right price.
“It is a beautiful piece of property and has value for many different uses but right now the family hasn’t decided what they want to do with it,” Henrikson said. “We’ve watched a lot of the industry grow up around it, but to be honest it has a lot of sentimental value.”
The Sutter site is zoned for industrial use, with about 100 acres suitable for industrial development. Located near the 3M property, the land is currently being rented out for farming.
The report is the first step addressing this issue. In a memo to City Manager Bill Watkins, REDI identified several steps to ensure the city and county will be able to support industrial projects. Some steps include an assessment of vacant industrially zoned land in Boone County, contacting owners of vacant industrial sites, and contacting the Industrial Land Committee to consider opportunities to purchase and develop industrial zoned sites.
“We’re proposing to meet and develop a legal entity that has the capability to own and develop land,” Andrews said. “This is a proactive step.”
The city will have many advantages if they are able to develop more industrial land for use.
“There’s a variety of benefits to the community from a large industrial plant,” Janku said. “3M’s plant has been in the community for a number of years. They have very good-paying jobs, pay a lot of property taxes, contribute to the community by helping fund things. If you can bring one in, it’s very beneficial.”