Work force statistics raise questions

Monday, January 14, 2008

I found a puzzling statistic Saturday as I was putting together this column: According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Cape Girardeau's work force has declined by almost 8 percent since 1999.

I was checking the latest unemployment figures for the area, and thought it would be interesting to know which recent year had the lowest unemployment, and found more than I bargained for. By the way, unemployment in Cape Girardeau averaged 5.2 percent during the first 11 months of 2007, up slightly from 2006. The 1999 rate was 3.3 percent.

I kept expanding the area I was looking at, and the number became more striking. The MERIC Web site provides data for sizable cities, counties, Census Bureau-defined labor markets and the state. Cape Girardeau County's work force has grown by 1,085, to 39,277 people, since 1999.

Looking at still larger areas, Cape Girardeau County, Bollinger County and Alexander County, Ill., are lumped together in the Cape Girardeau-Jackson, MO-IL Micropolitan Statistical Area. In that wider area, the total work force is up about 800 since 1999, while unemployment has increased to 4.6 percent from 3 percent.

The largest area labor market measure adds Scott County to the mix as the Cape Girardeau-Jackson-Sikeston, MO-IL Combined Statistical Area. For the first 11 months of 2007, the labor force was 68,956, up about 300 from 2006 and 400 from 1999. Average unemployment was 4.9 percent, up slightly from 2006's average of 4.8 but well above the 1999 figure of 3.3 percent.

So, dear readers, I ask: Is Cape Girardeau losing jobs, or are working people moving out of the city limits? It's worth a further look, and I promise to report back when I find out something.

* City says no: The owner of the 28-room Relax Inn, 200 Morgan Oak St., was turned down last week for an exemption to the Cape Girardeau building codes that would require the installation of sprinklers if the function of the building changes.

Rajani Shah, together with real estate broker Tom Meyer of Exit Realty, asked the city Board of Appeals for the variance, said Tim Morgan, head of the city's inspection department. In the application for the exception, Shah indicated he wants to turn the building, downtown's only hotel, into efficiency apartments, and called the building "completely fireproof" with concrete decking, concrete block walls and metal doors.

The board was told that apartments at the hotel across the street from the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus would be marketed to students, Morgan said.

Meyer confirmed that the hotel is for sale, with a list price of $395,000. It used to sit at the base of the Mississippi River bridge, but now that the bridge has been replaced by the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, the building "has very limited attraction for a motel use," Meyer said.

He would not comment on the possibilities for a sale.

* Back in business: John Cai, former owner of China Palace on Broadway, will be taking over Hunan Chinese Food, Steak and Buffet at 1815 E. Jackson Blvd., and renaming it China John's Chinese Buffet, his son Dong Cai told me Friday.

The restaurant will reopen Feb. 1, Cai said.

John Cai sold his Cape Gir-ardeau restaurant to a cousin in May and, while he wasn't really looking for another restaurant, the younger Cai said, he was missing the daily work. "He still wanted to keep busy and see all his friends." Dong Cai said.

When word came that the owner of Hunan's wanted to sell, Cai acted quickly, his son said. It is a pretty good location, he said, and they expect to do well. The restaurant will be open Monday through Saturday.

"We ask all our friends, relatives and anybody that we know to come visit us because we miss them," Dong Cai said. "We got to know most of our customers on a first-name basis."

* Business sold: Steve Crain of Cape Girardeau has sold his company, Crain Enterprises Inc., a maker of high-technology measuring tools and equipment for the surveying and construction industries, based in Mound City, Ill., to Trimble, a California-based company that makes a wide variety of positioning and navigation systems.

Crain Enterprises was founded in 1945 by Steve Crain's grandfather and two other partners as the Mound City Warehouse Co. Joe Crain moved into manufacturing after acquiring sole ownership of the business, with the first product being a fiberglass telescoping measuring pole.

Over the years, the diversity of products developed. In a conversation with me Thursday, Steve Crain noted that the equipment used by surveyors and construction engineers has changed dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years due to rapid technology advances.

"It is a strategic acquisition," Crain said of the purchase of his company by Trimble. "We are expecting to grow, and Trimble is a very successful technology company."

The changes will expand the market for Crain's products, opening up international markets that Trimble has already penetrated, Crain said. And, on a smaller scale, the marketing channels of more than 500 U.S. dealers Crain has developed will be used to promote the sales of Trimble's products.

Steve Crain and the entire staff will join Trimble, operating as a subsidiary of Trimble's Engineering and Construction segment.

* Business split: The brothers who own Cotner Electric Inc. are splitting the company, with Keith Cotner moving into a new location, real estate broker Tom Kelsey told me last week. Keith Cotner is starting Cotner K. Electric Inc. and moving into an office and warehouse at 779 Enterprise Drive. Until the remodeling of that building is complete, he will operate his business from temporary quarters at 1716 E. I-55 Outer Road near the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

Ron Cotner will retain ownership of the Cotner Electric Inc. name and continue to operate from the company's location at 2049 Southern Expressway.

Cotner Electric Inc. was founded in 1962 by Harvey Cotner and Narvel Green. Harvey Cotner bought out his partner a few years later, and the sons purchased the business from their father in 1986.

Keith Cotner called the move "just like splitting stocks." His company will concentrate on electrical contracting for the construction industry, doing commercial and industrial as well as residential installations.

"Basically, there were two different opinions on the type of work that we do, and that is basically it," Keith Cotner said.

Ron Cotner said he, too, would continue to pursue all the lines of work his company has performed, including working with construction firms as well as installing traffic signals and lighting. He, too, said the split was a mutual decision and that the two "just had some different viewpoints."

Ron Cotner said the firm was officially divided Dec. 31 and notices were sent to all the company's customers about the change in ownership.

* From the news release file: Reliable Community Bancshares Inc., parent company of the Bank of Missouri, headquartered in Perryville, Mo., announced it has acquired Countryside Bank, an independent bank in Republic, Mo., with assets of $97 million. The acquisition, which will be completed by April, will increase the Bank of Missouri assets to $636 million. The takeover will add two branches to the Bank of Missouri network and increase the company's presence in southwest Missouri, where it will have three branches.

Rudi Keller is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at rkeller@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 126

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