Local government must actively respond to economic problems

Thursday, October 4, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:51 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The headlines blared: 240 jobs lost at 3M in Columbia! Falling from a high of almost 1,000 employees in 1996 to 260 today is not a “concern.” It is a disaster. Columbia and Boone County cannot absorb or afford 240 newly unemployed workers. The city’s economic base was shaken by an economic earthquake. Neither paper expanded on the story over the weekend. The three (four if you count ABC/Fox as two) television news organizations gave this minimal air time. No one asked the questions that needed to be asked: Were city leaders kept in the dark of the impending firing of almost one-half of the remaining employees from one of Columbia’s largest manufacturing facilities? Is the relationship between the city and its major job providers so bad that decisions concerning the economic well-being of the city and region are not shared?

The headlines blared: Boone County suffers 172 home foreclosures! Yes, the number is well under the national average, but sugarcoating this economic quake will not lessen the tremors. This is an extremely high number for Columbia and Boone County, and again, not a word from the city. Or the county. Our elected and appointed officials are apparently nonresponsive.

I am not blaming 3M for an economic decision concerning their corporate well-being. I am not blaming the banking industry for trying to make a buck while “helping” people achieve the American Dream. The economy, for various reasons, suffers from economic cycles and is now in its cyclical downturn. However, when city government stays mute to the effects of losing employment opportunities, current and new, the residents of the city, county and region ultimately suffer. The loss of jobs means less retail sales and less tax revenue taken by the city. Projects concerning everything from animal control to road repair to water treatment will be cut back, delayed or eliminated. New businesses will relocate. Other businesses will suffer from the loss of revenue, directly and indirectly, and some will close. More jobs will be lost and more homes will fall into foreclosure. It is a slippery slope, but one that can be eased or possibly erased.

I would like to take this one step further, the long-term planning process, the “visioning” being conducted by the city. The top economic concerns appear to be the development of the infrastructure in support of “high tech” industries and improvements at the Columbia Regional Airport. Education and the survival of local manufacturing should also be on that list, as should a responsive management of our city and county.

The middle of Middle America cannot live by tourism, education, medical and insurance economics alone. We dodged the bullet when State Farm decided to keep its Columbia offices open, but that happened with little help from the offices at 701 E. Broadway. Now that the local economic bubble is being rattled from outside of our little world, we need to demand a stronger local government willing to stick its neck out and actually do something. Now!

Promoting “...positive attitudes toward economic development” and “support(ing) entrepreneurialism” is not a vision but a cry from residents for the city to do something now. No more studies, no more discussions. Take action now. Yet, whispers within the business community suggest that it is not just the lack of airport development, but the lack of the active promotion of growth by the city as the other, and sometimes greater, deal breaker. Another economic quake.

Our elected and appointed officials need to stop worrying about selling wine and beer in the parks and get into the offices of the leaders of our largest employers outside of education, medicine, retail and insurance. These economic quakes are threatening the very core of Columbia, Boone County and mid-Missouri. Your actions, the work of the council and city manager and action by the county commissioners can prevent future disaster. Get involved before ...

Is that another tremor I am feeling under my feet?

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at

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