Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sheila Thomas addressing local business, community and organization leaders at the Stone County Economic Development Summit on Jun 13 in Reeds Spring.

The Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce is taking the next step towards the formation of an economic development plan thanks to a recently awarded $12,000 grant.

On June 13, the Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce and Missouri District 138 Rep. Brad Hudson hosted the inaugural Stone County Economic Development Summit in Reeds Spring. Immediately following the summit, Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sheila Thomas said she was approached by Southwest Missouri Council of Governments Executive Director Jason Ray about a grant that could help fund some economic development research. 

Thomas explained they had to work fast because she learned about the grant on a Thursday and the deadline to apply was on the following Monday.

“If you’ve ever been involved in grant writing, you don’t write a grant in four days,” Thomas said. “(Ray) said, ‘Let’s try it.’ The money needed to come through SMCOG, so he prepared the application. We reviewed it and that Monday we shipped it off. We really didn’t know what to expect, because we had put it together so quickly, but we were awarded $12,000 as part of this grant process.”

Thomas said with this grant, the chamber will be able to fund the research needed to form an economic development plan. She added that not only did SMCOG help them apply for the grant, but they’ll also be the ones conducting the research.

“We know that gathering data and somewhat of the preliminary analyzing of that data is the first step in developing any kind of economic development strategy, because we can not develop a solid strategy without solid data,” said Thomas. 

“We can’t do it just by gut feelings or antidotal, ‘We think this might work’ kind of approach. So we’re pretty excited that this will give us a really clear snapshot of what we have here in Stone County.”

While the chamber already knows a lot about the demographics in Stone County, Thomas explained that some of the data that will be collected will include income trends, labor force information, real estate activity, availability of industrial property, traffic and transportation patterns, the impact of tourism, environmental concerns and the impact of flooding.

The study to collect this data and more is expected to take around six months to complete. Thomas said once they have a completed study, they will host a serious of focus groups to get area business, community and organization leaders involved to help them form a strategy and then get their input and opinions on that strategy. 

“So my hope would be that we get the study information back and then we are able to determine what our next step is,” Thomas said. “Is that looking for some funding to higher a consultant? Is that developing our own ‘Here’s where we’re going to go in the next year.’ What does that look like? We take this one step at a time, because we don’t have funding available right now specifically for economic development in Stone County. But we’re making progress and that’s what’s important.”

Thomas shared that in her five years with the chamber, the discussion and interest into seeing some economic development in the county has been there, but in that time a formal plan has never been established. 

“There’s so much speculation as to what would work here and why it would work here and should we focus on tourism or should we focus on manufacturing or should we do this or should we do that? You have to have data to answer those questions, because it’s all a circular process.”

The chamber’s economic development partnership is made up of the Stone County Commission, the cities of Branson West and Kimberling City, Table Rock Community Bank, the Missouri Department of Economic Development and Economic Development Consultant Rob O’Brian with O’Brian and Associates. 

The $12,000 grant was provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and was awarded by a statewide funding committee through the Missouri Association of Councils of Governments. 

“I’m really excited to see this come to fruition and us making some kind of progress,” said Thomas. “I think we have all the right people at the table now and we’re really excited about it.”

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