By LAURA LATZKO
COLUMBIA — The results from the Community Choices Open House are in, and they show that economic development is a major concern for Columbia residents.
The Community Choices Open House was an opportunity for Columbia residents to rank the strategies that 13 Citizen Topic Groups worked to develop over the past year and a half. Citizen topic groups include economic development, the environment, transportation, and arts and culture.
Four of the six strategies that received the most votes from residents involved economic development. The economic development group received roughly 569 votes out of 2,820 cast.
Columbians were given a sheet of six blue dots, similar to those used to mark prices at garage sales, to pick strategies they felt were the most important to them. The vote showed that economic development, the environment and transportation improvements were the most popular.
While the strategy to “preserve open spaces, farmland, beauty and critical environmental areas” was ranked as the top strategy with 135 votes, community members also want to “develop the necessary infrastructure to support emerging technology industries.” This strategy was second with 132 dots.
But will these top two issues conflict? Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said they’re not “mutually exclusive” because open spaces and business can both exist in Columbia and that the infrastructure necessary to accommodate development — sewers, waterlines and Internet networks — can be built under and over these spaces.
“There may be a conflict, as far as certain areas, such as costs, are concerned,” Laird said. “But just because you have open spaces doesn’t mean you won’t have the necessary infrastructure.”
Robert Bailey was the facilitator for several subcommittees of the economic development group. He said the top economic development strategy is based upon developing technologies that will create higher-paying, more technologically-driven jobs. But he said it will take workers who are skilled in the use of computers and new technologies, and industrial parks such as Discovery Ridge, a 1,452-acre facility being built on MU’s South Farm.
Bailey said the cornerstone of these strategies is “recruiting and retaining our best and brightest graduates” from colleges and universities in Columbia.
“If Columbia is to continue to be prosperous, to have planned growth, to have jobs for people who want to reside in Columbia, there have to be jobs to attract or attain those people,” Bailey said.
Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, said he believes MU will be important for the implementation of these economic development strategies.
“Communities that are doing well are being proactive so that they have the infrastructure in place for high-paying jobs,” Stamper said. “We need a strong university, and with a strong university, we have the potential to have a strong community.”
Stamper said one obstacle that could hinder implementation of the city’s economic plans is the “anti-economic” views of some Columbians about further development.
“We have a rep around the state and nation for being hard to work with,” Stamper said.
Laird said many of the strategies chosen as the top picks are in line with his group’s strategic plan, which includes the development of a strong economy and programs that foster the growth of businesses.
Strategies that received the most votes at the open house will be included in the finalized Vision Plan, along with all the others developed by the 13 topic groups, which is expected to go before the Sponsors Council in late November. If approved, it will then go the City Council, which will then be in charge of implementing these policies.