Mitch Robinson, Magnet executive director, talks about the region's economic development

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

As executive director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, Mitch Robinson has played a part in the region's economic development over the past 18 years. Here, he reflects on 2011 and what the future holds for continued economic growth in Southeast Missouri.

BT: How would you summarize 2011 economically in Southeast Missouri? What types of business saw the most growth? Which are struggling?

Robinson: If you look at the trends and the numbers it was a positive year with growth occurring within the region. But, there are always a few areas that always struggle due to location, infrastructure, labor issues or a number of other reasons. I think it was across the board -- some winners, some losers. I can't say that one segment suffered more, with even some slight recovery in the housing market. Some industries were able to grow this past year, like the expansions at Nordenia USA and Blair Box, with numerous other companies investing in their operations with new equipment during the year or ongoing at this time.

I think those that are struggling have issues related to capital needs, which is much tougher than in years past. Many of these companies have lost markets for reasons out of their control. Some of these companies have issues related to older facilities, outdated technology and/or poor management.

If I had to pin it down to one area, it would have to be in the higher retail price range of luxury items. Whether it is in the housing, clothing, vehicles or home furnishings, individuals have cut back on their spending due to increasing costs and/or loss of revenue. In our area, go out to eat during the day or over the weekend. People are still going out to eat, and the community's tax receipts still show that solid growth in those areas.

BT: What do you think was the biggest economic development story for the region in the past year?

Robinson: For me it would have to be the expansion at Nordenia USA. This new facility that will be open in early 2012 was a major project for the company and the city of Jackson. This new operation will allow the company to expand its capacity to meet customer demands. The city will open a new industrial park for the area, helping to create new jobs by assisting Nordenia.

BT: What areas are prime for economic development in Cape Girardeau County?

Robinson: We have a lot of areas that are suitable for development. We are working to identify more property suitable for industrial uses. This is always an issue for any community. On the retail side, we still have excellent property available at almost every interchange within our area. Many of these sites have utilities at the location or very close within a cost-effective distance. Companies want to be where other companies are located, so it is always more difficult to get that "first one." Our downtowns also have suitable retail, service or office locations for businesses that want to locate downtown. Having different options for businesses is critical for a community to grow because one type of location will not meet the needs of all companies.

BT: Can you talk about the Enhanced Enterprise Zone and how that can help lure businesses to Cape Girardeau County?

Robinson: The Enhanced Enterprise Zone will assist certain types of manufacturing, distribution, service and other targeted businesses by providing an incentive from the state of Missouri and from the local community. This is a completive program that the state of Missouri may provide assistance with based on the project investment, number of jobs to be created, health insurance provided and a wage level high enough to meet stated criteria. If a project is determined to meet those standards then the company can receive a tax credit, which can often be an actual check to assist with their project. If the project meets these standards then the local community can also provide a 50 percent real estate abatement for 10 years for the new real estate investment. This is another tool for our economic development "toolbox."

BT: What does the area need to make it more attractive to companies?

Robinson: We just need more opportunities, in my opinion. Our area is attractive to companies; we just need more companies to consider our region of Missouri. As the economy gets in better condition, then these numbers will increase. We still have a lot of companies waiting and watching what is going on in the national and international markets. We have a great labor force that is productive and can meet the education and training needs of new employers. You visit with local plant managers and employers and most all speak highly of the workforce they have in place.

BT: How do you think the casino is going to drive the local economy in the years to come?

Robinson: I believe from what we have see in other communities that the casino project will have a major positive impact on the community. New revenue for the city of Cape Girardeau will allow for investments in a wide variety of areas that will make our area a more attractive place to do business, reside in and to visit.

BT: Do you think having a tourist attraction like the casino will make other companies more interested in locating in Cape Girardeau?

Robinson: Companies are now looking at areas that people want to live in. Most companies want to locate where there is a workforce. People want to live in communities that have a high quality of life with excellent educational options, quality health care, good housing values, a strong retail base as well as things to do in their free time. The casino will help redevelop the downtown area, attracting other types of businesses that are interested in a million visitors a year who are estimated to be patrons of the Isle facility. I think the casino will be a catalyst for many new opportunities within the area.

BT: Blair Best Box moved into the Thorngate building earlier this year: What other vacant buildings do you think would be attractive to businesses wanting to locate or expand in the area?

Robinson: The other major buildings available are the former McKesson Distribution Center (124,000 square feet) and the former Commander Building (52,000 square feet) at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. We also have the former Blue Cross Blue Shield building (42,000 square feet) that is attracting interest from the call center industry.

BT: What do you think the local economic outlook is for 2012? What about the next five years?

Robinson: 2012 will see much of the same growth that we have had for the past 12 to 18 months. The Cape Girardeau area has never had the high growth or low declines that much of the United States has seen. Much like the conservative values of the region's residents, we see that in our business community as well. Companies watch their revenue and expenses very closely and are keeping a close eye on what is happening in their markets and their industry sectors. The election in November will have a huge impact on the attitudes of the local, state and national economy.

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