Economic development discussed at Magnet meeting

Friday, January 16, 2009

Even with the establishment of new businesses in Southeast Missouri, industrial recruiter Mitch Robinson and state Sen. Jason Crowell voiced concern Friday about the negative effect on commerce if Cape Girardeau and Perry counties are designated an ozone nonattainment area. Robinson spoke at the annual business meeting and appreciation lunch of the Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, where he serves as executive director.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has proposed the two counties be placed in a new Southeast Missouri zone because of ozone readings the agency said are above acceptable levels at a monitoring station near Farrar, Mo., in Perry County. Studies of air patterns found that pollution from Cape Girardeau County was a significant contributor to high readings.

While the exact meaning of the designation is unclear at this point, Robinson said the fear is it could mean businesses may close or not relocate to the area.

"This is something that concerns us a great deal," Robinson said. "We have a very short window of doing anything, so we're trying to talk to as many people as possible who will make this decision."

Robinson expects the Department of Natural Resource's Clean Air Commission will make a recommendation Feb. 3 to Gov. Jay Nixon, who has a month to forward his recommendation onto the Environmental Protection Agency. Periods of public meetings to discuss this recommendation will be held until March 2010, when the agency makes its final decision.

"I can't stress enough how serious this is," Crowell said. "We need this nonattainment to go away."

In addition to the nonattainment area proposal, another hot topic was the slowing economy in the area. Robinson said rising fuel costs, the banking crisis and a weak housing market all had some effect on the area's economy. He cited the closure of Thorngate Ltd., which announced in late 2008 its plans to cease operations in Cape Girardeau by the end of this month.

"I think there's no magic ball about when the economy will turn around," Robinson said. "The question is how long it will take us.

"As the economy starts to rebound, the activity level will go up."

But even with an uncertain future Robinson said he is optimistic about some areas of the local economy.

Robinson pointed to the construction of Saint Francis Medical Center's $84 million heart hospital and cancer institute and Southeast Missouri Hospital's Wednesday groundbreaking of its $33 million cancer center.

"Both are of huge importance," Robinson said. "I can't stress enough of what the medical community brings in and the jobs they provide."

Other projects of notable importance included Cape Girardeau's proposed water park, construction of a new room dormitory at Southeast Missouri State University, improvements within the 33-acre Jackson Industrial Development Co. industrial park, renovation of the former Schultz School into senior housing and the recruitment of such businesses as NAB Automation engineering company from Illinois to Cape Girardeau.

Looking ahead in 2009, Robinson is excited about new businesses that will have a presence in the area.

Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures Inc. is expanding its operations from Advance, Mo., into Cape Girardeau County. The manufacturer of standard and custom sheet metal enclosures is in the process of moving into a 105,000-square-foot building at 4860 Nash Road. Robinson said the move is significant for the company, which will bring 130 jobs to the county.

Robinson said that some interest has been expressed in the Thorngate building but he would not elaborate further.

"It's difficult to go to a city council meeting and discuss a company's plans in front of the media," he said. "We have to be careful about what we say so we don't scare a company off."


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