Stone County took the first steps towards planning for its economic future at the inaugural Stone County Economic Development Summit on June 13.
Hosted by Missouri District 138 Rep. Brad Hudson and the Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce, the summit brought together a panel of economic leaders from across the state to address state, regional and local economic development initiatives and to kick-start the conversation on the county’s economic future.
Table Rock Lake Chamber President and CEO Sheila Thomas said the summit was made possible by a grant from the Ozark Region Workforce Development Board.
“We’re all really excited about the turnout. It’s really great,” said Thomas. “I talked with State Rep. Brad Hudson right after he got elected, and we stated talking about economic development and what we could do about it. I said ‘Let’s do this and bring in everybody who is interested in this and put together a team of people that are interested in moving forward.’ So we just planned it and we didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been great.”
Ahead of the panelists, Hudson briefly spoke on why he wanted to get involved with the economic future of the county. Hudson also said it’s a good time for the county to start looking into economic diversity.
“Tourism has been good and will continue to be good for all of us. I want to talk a little bit about economic diversity, which does not just include tourism, but other opportunities that we may have,” said Hudson. “Not to diminish tourism one bit. This will always be important to our area and we’re going to continue to support it. We’re going to continue to benefit from it.”
Hudson also asked attendees to think about what they would like the future of the county to look like.
“We’re a growing area. We’re growing faster than a lot of the other communities around us and it’s time we start looking into diversifying our economic situation, so in our future we are prepared for the growth that is coming. I would like all of us to think about our community, our county, where you live. Where do you want to see Stone County 10 years from now? Where do you want to see Stone County 25 years from now? What’s your vision 100 years from now? What kind of communities are we going to be leaving for those that follow after us? When you picture that, what you want to see, what are we going to do to get there?”
Attendees also had the chance to hear from former president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Rob O’Brian, who now serves as the president of O’Brian and Associates, a consulting firm for chambers and economic development agencies. During his presentation, O’Brian broke down some statistics that he hopes attendees will keep in mind as the county begins this economic development journey.
“The population is growing. Your immediate income is high compared to the surrounding counties. You have a low poverty rate. That’s a plus. That gives you a basis to work from. The jobs are running rapidly here. They’re probably going to slow down a bit, but your top employment sectors are not the highest ones in the bunch out there. So when you talk about diversifying the economy, how are you going to raise that up and make sure that poverty level then stays low?” said O’Brian. “Your working age population looks like it could decline if the trend line continues. You do have a gap with your bachelor’s and associate degree folks and it’s something you’re going to need to look at again as you think about diversifying the economic base.”
O’Brian added that he hopes everyone who attended will walk away from the summit on the same page, now that they know some of the background information and the opportunities out there for the county.
Additional summit speakers included Gibson Technical Center Director Nick Thirman, Missouri Department of Economic Development Deputy Director Luke Holtschneider, Missouri Department of Economic Development Southwest Regional Manager Mary Rajek and Missouri Partnership Vice President of Business Recruitment Sean Johnson.
Now that area community leaders and members have heard from the economic panelists, Thomas said, planning will begin for the next step.
“I hope that after the summit, we’ll contact everyone that was in attendance and gauge their interest in serving on maybe a steering committee of some kind. We’ll work with Mary Rajek with Missouri Department of (Economic Development) and hopefully just take that next step whatever we determine that is.”
Anyone interested in learning more or assisting with Stone County’s economic future is encouraged to contact the Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce or Rep. Hudson.