Bucking the trends and missed opportunity

Friday, September 22, 2006

Here's something I hear from business types all the time about Cape Girardeau: It's somewhat insulated from national economic trends.

We don't rely on one industry, they say, so we don't live or die based on what one particular industry does. We're also a retail hub, drawing in tens of thousands of shoppers each day. We're also a medical hub, drawing patients to our many doctors' offices and two hospitals.

I don't know that I believe those factors insulated us from the national "trends" of inflation, increasing interest rates and skyrocketing fuel prices.

But there must be some truth to the insulated argument. It's bolstered by the fall edition of Southeast Missouri Business Indicators, which is put out by the university's Center for Economic and Business Research.

The U.S. economic looks depressing: rising interest rates, high federal government budget deficits, slower growth of the economy, sluggish job creation, weakening housing market, slowing productivity growth, rising energy prices.


But the Southeast Missouri region enjoyed one of its strongest periods in the second quarter. Employment rose every county while the unemployment rate in the region fell to 5 percent. Retail sales are up and personal income continues to advance at a healthy clip.

So insulated, at least in some degree, we must be.

MOHELA missed opportunity?

Department of Economic Development director Greg Steinhoff is irritated with the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, which failed to vote on Gov. Matt Blunt's Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative.

"I am extremely disappointed that the MOHELA board decided not to vote on this proposal today," Steinhoff said on Sept. 9. "This is a missed opportunity to deliver desperately needed resources to our state's higher education system. I remain optimistic and expect that the board will do what is right and approve this initiative."

Steinhoff said potential economic development avenues are now in danger as a result of today's action. "I simply cannot stress to how important it is for Missouri to begin making significant investments in higher education. The funding in this initiative is dedicated to infrastructure improvements, business incubators and funds for technology commercialization," he said.

Because Missouri is falling behind in math and science education at all levels, Steinhoff said the state is in desperate need of better facilities to allow for a higher quality educational opportunity -- especially in the sciences.

"The Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative will enhance science and math educational facilities on campuses across the state. In these facilities, we will train the next generation of students who will be prepared to prosper in a knowledge based economy," he said.

Without these additional resources Missouri's economy will suffer in the future because there is a link between higher education and high-quality economic development. "While Missouri is currently in a solid position in this regard, we are losing ground every day, and we cannot allow our state to fall behind in the 21st Century economy," Steinhoff said. "The longer we wait, the more opportunities we lose. We needed the MOHELA board of directors to act on this plan today and they dropped the ball."

The MOHELA board of directors discussed the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative that would have provided approximately $335 million to Missouri colleges and universities for important capital improvement projects as well as $15 million to help commercialize technologies discovered at Missouri institutions.

Scott Moyers is editor of Business Today.

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