Business climate looks good for Cape Girardeau

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Editor's note: This article was written as a school assignment last fall.

By Carsen Bahn

Cape Girardeau is the home of more than 2,000 businesses.

"This city has a diverse economy with manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, retail sales, agriculture, health services, education and transportation," said John Mehner, the executive director of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.

Cape Girardeau also has numerous service industries such as computer technology, cleaning establishments and maintenance.

According to Mehner, the businesses in the area have had steady growth since 1992, despite a tight economy.

Historically, Cape Girardeau County has had a low unemployment rate compared to the state and national rates, according to the Chamber of Commerce handbook. The diversity of the economy helps this area to avoid recessions.

There has always been a demand for qualified job seekers, as evidenced by looking at the Help Wanted sections of the Southeast Missourian. Signs can also be seen in front of local businesses advertising for new employees.

The population of Cape Girardeau is approximately 35,000 with more than 294,000 people in the economical service area, according to the chamber.

"The city is also well situated with the river, highway and rail transportation and it is centrally located in the United States, giving it a huge advantage in low distribution costs," said Mehner.

Among the major local industries, Procter & Gamble is one of the largest manufacturing employers. In the last three years, Procter & Gamble added a new product line which included a $350 million expansion and several hundred new jobs.

Mehner said that the local hospitals have also had a major growth. St. Francis Medical Center has recently opened a new section dedicated to newborns and their care.

Building activity has been strong and steady throughout the year, spurred by the large projects at Procter & Gamble and the Cape Girardeau Public Schools, Mehner stated. There has been other significant new business construction as well as continued residential development.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mehner stated that many places in town reported a decrease in business. He said this might mean a decrease in job opportunities for younger and elderly job seekers.

Mehner also said some businesses have already cut back or may even close their doors. "These plans were being discussed before the disaster, so they are not related," he said.

The national economy has been flat or slowing over the past three years, according to the chamber of commerce handbook. The Federal Reserve has decreased interest rates several times recently. Also, national production levels have not increased significantly during this period of time.

Biokyowa Corp. has also laid off employees but is planning a major restructuring to make new compounds. These plans were also being made before during the disaster, according to the chamber director.

Airline boardings were temporarily down, but, overall, 2001 has been a record year for air travel in Cape Girardeau, according to the Chamber of Commerce.

"Travel businesses report a significant decrease in vacation and travel plans since the attack," Mehner said.

"When we examine the overall outlook for business in Cape Girardeau, we see there are still many positive signs," he added. "We still have the advantage of location and a trained work force. Energy prices are decreasing and interest rates are falling, which reduces the cost of doing business, and this will help stimulate the economy.

"Agriculture, health services, education and food consumption will stay stable in slow economies. Project building programs are already planned into the next year," he added.

"All these items suggest that Cape Girardeau will continue to do well in the foreseeable future," said Mehner.

The Chamber of Commerce director urged, "Keep supporting the local businesses and economy."

Carsen Bahn is a student in the Cape Girardeau public schools.

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