Perry County economy continues growing, with more jobs on the way

Monday, April 26, 2010
Linda Kiefer operates a robotic clip machine for automobile cluster finish panels and meter hoods at TG Missouri in Perryville, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- With expanding businesses, low employment and new industry on the horizon, Perry County is seeing economic growth at a time when most other communities are struggling.

Last month Gilster-Mary Lee announced it is adding 50 new jobs and this summer construction will begin on a new wood-fueled power plant that will create about 100 jobs.

"Under normal circumstances, it would be good, but in light of what's going on elsewhere, it's phenomenal," said Larry Tucker, executive director of the Perry County Economic Development Authority.

TG Missouri, Perryville-based supplier for Toyota, had laid off employees in 2009 but has since recalled almost all of them, Tucker said.

For the past several years, Perryville's unemployment rate has been at least two percentage points lower than the state's average, according to data from the Missouri Economic Information and Research Center. Unemployment statewide last month was 10.2 percent while Perry County's unemployment rate was 7.6 percent.

"Our unemployment rate has been well below the state and national average for two decades," Tucker said.

Perry County's economic growth has continued steadily over the past 20 years, improving its quality of life, said Perryville Mayor Debbie Gahan.

"When I first came here in 1980, people won't like me saying this, but it used to be quite a little backwater," Gahan said. "There weren't good jobs here, and kids that were graduating were going off to college and weren't coming back."

The Perry County Industrial Development Authority incorporated in 1980 in hopes of attracting more industry to the area by offering affordable land and financial assistance to businesses through revenue bonds, grants and loans.

"They pushed, and it changed," Gahan said.

TG-Missouri, the first company to locate in the Perryville Industrial Park, now employs more than 1,100 people.

"Every community can talk about its schools and its hospitals, but we have half a dozen major manufacturers here," Tucker said.

About 35 percent of Perry County's work force is engaged in manufacturing, he added.

Gilster-Mary Lee, Perry County's largest employer with more than 1,400 workers, is constructing a new warehouse and trucking facility in the Perryville Industrial Park and adding two new breakfast cereal production lines to keep up with increasing consumer demand. The company has operated in downtown Perryville since 1969. In addition to cereals, Gilster-Mary Lee makes other grain-based products, including macaroni and cheese, baking mixes and pasta.

A combination of its natural resources and quality work force led many companies to locate and expand in Perry County.

Susan Gore operates the corn flakes packaging line at Gilster-Mary Lee in Perryville, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

Its landscape is rich with stone, sand and forests. Its forest products industry employs more than 300 people.

Perry County is home to two large distributors of stone products, EarthWorks and SEMCO, which employ more than 200 people combined.

Proppant Specialists started a sand quarry operation in Brewer, Mo., in 2007 with 30 employees; now the company is up to 45 and plans to add 12 more this year, Tucker said.

"Companies like the blue-collar farm boys because they know how to work hard, and they know how to fix things themselves," Tucker said.

Gahan credited the Perryville Higher Education Center, operated by Mineral Area College and Southeast Missouri State University, with training local residents to obtain the jobs now available.

The center worked with local aircraft rehab company Saberliner, which employs about 400 people, to offer classes in metalwork for its employees.

Course offerings also are being added to provide training for technicians who will work at the new power plant operated by Liberty Green Renewables of Georgetown, Ind. The company plans to build a $120 million facility adjacent to the Perryville Industrial Park to burn wood chips to produce electricity.

"When we heard there were good jobs coming in, I said why don't we train our people so they can get them," Gahan said.

The city of Perryville's investments in water and sewer system upgrades along with a large capacity electrical transmit ion line that already existed in its industrial park led Liberty Green Renewables to locate there, said project developer Jack Farley.

Recruiting new projects like this takes time, Tucker said. His office began talks with Liberty Green Renewables in 2008. It will be another two years before the facility is open.

"Working to attract new businesses is the flashy part of the job," Tucker said. "Those don't occur that often. Most of my time is spent working with existing businesses that have already made a commitment to Perryville."

Perry County Memorial Hospital is one example. It is in the midst of a $17 million expansion that will add to its existing facility and bring more jobs, Tucker said.

The hospital is in the process of replacing the main patient care facility, operating room suites and its power plant. When completed, all patient rooms will be private.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

112 W. Saint Maries St., Perryville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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