A detailed plan to spur future economic growth in the Parkland was released to the public Thursday morning at a special meeting of the St. Francois County Commission, as well as at three commission meetings held simultaneously in Ste. Genevieve, Madison and Iron counties.

Introducing the Stronger Economies Together (SET) Parkland REDI Economic Plan to those gathered at the St. Francois County Courthouse Annex was Commissioner Patrick Mullins.

“What’s so special about this?” he asked. “All four counties — Iron, Madison, Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois — are all meeting today. On July 24, 2012, I attended my very first multi-county site selection committee meeting and it was held at the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission in Perryville.

“The multi-county committee is a sub-committee of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission (SEMO RPC). It’s made up of county commissioners and business leaders from the four counties. The group was formed back in 2006 by the late Jim Henson and IDA (St. Francois County Industrial Development Authority) President Al Sullivan.

“Since then, a lot of positive accomplishments have come to fruition. On Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, a steering committee met. On Nov. 12, 2015, a kick-off meeting took place. Many four-hour meetings transpired and on Sept. 6, 2017, Drew Christian with the SEMO RPC sent out an email to all the members that the Parkland REDI Economic Plan was approved.

According to Mullins, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given the Parkland REDI initiative’s plan for stimulating economic growth in the region its top rating of “High Quality.”

“This rating opens the door to benefits for the entire region when applying for grants with the USDA, such as bonus points on applications and access to special funds, as well as additional legitimacy when working with other agencies,” Mullins said. “The plan includes specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely actions targeted at improving the economic health of the region.

“Most recently, the Parkland REDI was selected to participate in the Stronger Economies Together (SET) initiative from the USDA. According to the USDA, the purpose of SET is to “strengthen the capacity of communities and counties in rural America to work together in developing and implementing an economic development blueprint that strategically builds on the current and emerging economic strengths of their region.”

Following Mullins’ introduction, Sullivan was invited to offer his thoughts on the economic plan.

“In 2011, this four-county committee contracted with McCallum Sweeney Consulting of North Carolina, a global leader in site consulting for multi-national corporations such as Nissan, Boeing and Procter & Gamble. They came in and they did a study which identified multiple sites in the region for potential industrial development.

“They identified the top site as being somewhere in the neighborhood of the Highway 32/I-55 junction. We then asked the representatives from Ste. Genevieve County to approach those land owners and try to obtain an option on that property so we would have it and be able to deliver it if we had someone interested.

“None of the good people up in that area wanted to option their property. They were happy with how it was and they wanted to pass it on to their children. The second source identified was the Orchard property near Bonne Terre. We did obtain an option on that land which we still hold for economic development.”

Sullivan said other areas of potential economic interest were identified in all four counties and cooperation between the political entities has been a key to its success.

“Since the Parkland REDI was formed in 2008, there have been 13 different presiding commissioners elected among the four counties and every one of them, regardless of political party, has renewed his county’s commitment to the coalition without hesitation,” he said. “Iron County has said, ‘Well, we think we’re the smallest county in there, but we feel there’s a lot to be gained by us being a part of it.’

“I will tell you that today, if a major industry were to come to this area, Iron County will probably receive it at the [former ASARCO] Glover site. We have worked with the Doe Run Company as they have cleaned up that site and there’s a 100,000-square-foot building and 4,000 acres they control with rail and both Black River and Ameren serve that, along with a large water reserve.”

The economic plan sets three goals to bring economic growth to the four-county region:

— Industrial Attraction. “By diversifying and growing the number of employers in the region, this goal will help increase employment in the region, thereby directly benefiting those that are unemployed or under-employed. This increase in employment will also indirectly benefit the entire region by stimulating economic activity throughout the area.”

— Workforce Development and Outreach. “Development of the workforce will lead to numerous benefits for the local economy. By providing well defined job training programs that fit the needs of local employers, participants will have a greater chance of employment locally, leading to higher wages and household income, a better quality of life and decreased unemployment.

— Business Retention and Expansion. “BRE programs, focused on keeping and growing existing businesses, are one of the least expensive methods of economic development possible while still generating positive results. This makes BRE very cost effective and allows the region to take a multi-pronged approach to economic development.”

Drew Christian of SEMO RPC, stressed that the key to the economic plan is that it doesn’t just set out goals without offering a way to meet them.

“This plan includes key measures and strategies to track its progress,” he said. “I think this has the potential of bringing significant economic progress to this region as all four counties work together for its success.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mullins noted that progress is already being made in bringing industry to the area.

“Folks, on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, [Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher] and I traveled to the Missouri Partnership, along with [SEMO RPC Executive Director] Chauncy Buchheit and [IDA Vice President] Kevin Cook. We went over a proposal using pieces of this data in trying to bring a company to St. Francois County and an adjoining county.

“We spent the day discussing the possible project and answering questions. On Wednesday, Nov. 1, we commissioners sent a letter with our three signatures on county letterhead to this company — they requested it — overnight because they were going to present it to their board. Thanks to the members of the IDA and Al Sullivan and [Iron County Presiding Commissioner] Jim Scaggs.

“Al went out to these jurisdictions and talked to them — he’s been talking to the company, also. Jim Scaggs actually started this project several years ago. So, if this company does come into St. Francois County — and this project comes to fruition using this data — this is going to be huge. It would be around a $52 million plant, 30 to 40 good paying jobs, three shifts and a possible fourth shift.”

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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