Not everything is a 'quality of life' issue

Monday, October 28, 2002

An editor I had at a Columbia, Mo., newspaper had one huge pet peeve -- he hated it when someone used the phrase "quality of life."

"Everything is a quality of life issue," he said with a groan. "Make them be more specific. Make them tell you what they mean. It's gobbledegook."

I agree with that sentiment, though I don't take it as personally as he did.

So I was glad when I was talking with Michael Devaney about a study he had done on Missouri business. The study showed that -- surprisingly -- "quality of life" issues were not of huge importance to high-growth companies when they are looking at locations for business startups or relocation.

Not affordable housing. Not high crime rates. Not accessible health care.

Not what you'd think, huh?

Devaney is the interim chairman of Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Accounting, Finance and Business Law. He and Steve Del Vecchio -- former business manager of the Cape Girardeau School District who now is a professor at Central Missouri State University -- finished the study earlier this month.

The objective of their state-funded research was to identify Missouri companies in high-growth industries to determine what factors are most important in a business's decision on where to locate. They looked at growth from 1990 to 2000.

High-growth industries, by the way, are telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, financial services, computer programming, cable TV, computer equipment and business services -- all members of the service industry. And Missouri's rate of increase for those industries was below the national average.

What Devaney and Del Vecchio did was look at a statistical model of these industries across the country. Then they surveyed 400 Missouri companies in those high-growth fields.

Here's what the studies led them to believe: Missouri businesses follow the national trend by looking at how high the corporate taxes are and the availability of a skilled workforce, which is defined as the percentage of the population over age 30 with a college degree.

"We asked them what was important, and that's what they said," Devaney said. "I was surprised. I thought some of those quality of life issues would come up, but they didn't."

The survey also allowed respondents to make comments. Another factor that they talked about was transportation, such as having good highways or access to airports that offered international travel. Some firms even said that they did so much business online that, basically, they could move wherever they wanted with little interruption.

The study's conclusion comes at an interesting time, I think.

The state is desperate for more sources of revenue. When the government looks at sources of revenue, you can bet that they're looking at taxes. They are also making cuts to higher education.

That doesn't sound good for Missouri business.

"Our conclusion is that during a period that the state is searching out new sources of income, is that they need to construct a tax system that is competitive," Devaney said. "At the same time, they have to make sure to fund higher education to the extent needed to create a high-skilled workforce. That high-skilled workforce comes from higher education."

Devaney's point here -- and it's a good one -- is that failing to achieve this goal will result in the state falling even further behind the national average.

Scott Moyers is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Send your comments, business news, information or questions to Biz Buzz, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699, e-mail smoyers@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 137.

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