Missouri’s rural communities are a destination for new investment. Across the state, places such as Sedalia are seeing significant interest from companies searching for an affordable place to do business that offers an exceptional quality of life.
Sedalia is home to major manufacturers such as Tyson Foods, Maxion Wheels, and Stanley Black & Decker. In 2017, Nucor Steel announced plans to build a new $250+ million steel bar micro-mill in Sedalia. That facility is now up and running and has created hundreds of new jobs in the region.
Jessica Craig, the Executive Director of Economic Development for Sedalia-Pettis County, was recently interviewed on OUTdrive, a popular podcast hosted by Cliff Callis that takes a deep dive into rural America, about the region’s success in attracting new investment. She described the region’s commitment to business attraction and gave an inside look at daily life in rural Missouri.
Cliff Callis: There’s been a lot of success in our region. What is it about our community or our area that companies tell you that they love?
Jessica Craig: First and foremost, we have built a foundation over the last 40 years in this community. We are a community ready for the investment. We didn’t create economic development overnight. We didn’t create the five industrial parks that we have overnight. These are decades in the making, and some of those players that were around back in the 70s and the 80s are still decision makers and are still involved to this day.
We’ve got the history and the backbone. We have a work ethic that was developed here at the local level back at the turn of the century, in the 1900s. This was really where Sedalia got its start whenever the cattle drives came through town, the railroad expansion, you had a lot of men that were ready to build something with their hands and put in a hard day of work and be rewarded for it. I think when you look at the foundation of our community, that hard work ethic started back all that time ago, then the families followed, then the growth happened here locally.
Today, one of the biggest assets that we have is our community. Our city population is around 22,000. Our county population is around 44,000. But we know from studies that we have commissioned that we draw people from a 10-county labor basin. So, from 10 counties away, every single day, people are driving into Pettis County to find work. The population of our labor basin is not about our city population or our county population, it’s about that hub which is about 256,000 people. And that’s the powerful piece that companies say, “I am willing to set up shop and build a new facility here because you are that regional hub for commerce, for work, for employment, for healthcare, for tourism.” I think that regionalism that we have developed with all the surrounding counties has definitely driven much of the growth as well.
Cliff Callis: We’ve been involved in doing some focus group research around our community recently, and one of the things that really stands out is the partnerships and people working together to make things happen and get things done, and that’s certainly evident here. It really surprises me that we don’t hear about that happening as much in other places, and I think it’s really one of the things that sets our county and community apart from a lot of other ones and is one of the big reasons why we’re enjoying the economic development success that we are, in addition to many other things.
Jessica Craig: Absolutely! Companies, in my experience, want to hedge their risk. The more that they feel comfortable that a community is prepared for them to put down $10 million, $20 million, $200 million in building a new facility, they want to make sure the community is ready for them to do that. So, the more that we communicate to that business and their team on the front end that we are ready, we can manage the entire deployment of their new facility because companies aren’t making these decisions based on the next five years of growth.The facilities that you see throughout our community and throughout our state have been here from 50-100 years. So, these commitments that they are making, yeah, they might be investing $100 million in constructing a new facility, but this is a long-term play for them. The more that you can illustrate that your community and state is prepared for that and reduces the risk to that company, the better off you’re going to be. The old adage is prepared communities win. So, when I get that phone call from a company that says “I’m going to be there tomorrow. I want to look at the locations you proposed to me, talk to your utility providers and all of the players, your city and county leadership,” I’ve got to be able to pull that team together with little notice and be ready to go at the drop of a hat, so that company knows we’re ready for your investment when you are.
Cliff Callis: Tell us from your perspective what it’s like to live in rural America.
Jessica Craig: I get asked this quite often while working with businesses from around the globe. And I always ask folks, “how long do you have?” Because it’s a complex answer that can quickly be summarized. You can have all the bells and whistles in life that you want and at the end of the day, go home to a very simple way of living. I like to say it’s the best of both worlds. We have the prime opportunities of development right here in our backyard, as well as a less complicated way to raise our families and live day to day.
Click here to listen to the full episode of the podcast.