Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask the question “how do we make Neosho grow?” or “Why can’t we get a good chain restaurant like Cheddars?” These are legitimate questions, but the answers aren’t quite as easy. And as I’ve done some research of my own, it seems like the answers are becoming more and more of an expensive proposition for taxpayers as well.
I want to go back a moment and look at how economic development was done back in the 1980s by my family on a project right here in Neosho. My grandfather on my mom’s side had a vision that someday, Neosho would grow to the south. In particular, it would grow around the intersection of then Hwy 71 (now Hwy 59) and Hwy 60.
He and a partner took the initiative to buy nearly 100 acres of land located on the southwest corner of that intersection around 1970. At the time, Edgewood Bowl was new to the area and the drive-in theater was a popular destination. The Ramada Inn had not yet been built and the Neosho skating rink was an old white building and a popular hangout for young kids like me.
For almost 20 years, my grandpa held the “investment” that ultimately became where the current Wal-Mart Supercenter is today. I can still remember a very “split” vote from the council at the time on whether or not to grant rezoning to “permit” Wal-Mart to relocate from the Boulevard and expand. I specifically recall downtown businesses hiring an attorney out of Springfield to oppose the move fearing it would “kill” business on the square. The vote ultimately passed, with the mayor at the time voting “no”.
As the Wal-Mart deal progressed, many roadblocks were thrown up by the city and the state. My grandfather ultimately paid for all of the water and sewer expansion to the property. He also had to pay for all three traffic lights for the property — one on Lusk Dr., one on Clemon Dr., and one on Industrial Drive. All of that expense came out of his pocket. Nothing — not one dime — was paid for by sales tax, a CID, a TDD, a TIF or any other “economic tools.” He did keep a two-foot wide strip along the property boundaries in hopes of “charging” anyone who tied on to the utilities he was required to install. A local group in Neosho proposing a strip mall on the south side of Wal-Mart would later “informally” approach some members of the county commission to “take” that strip of land by eminent domain to avoid having to pay for it. (Thankfully, the county said “no” to those locals who wanted to control the project and the strip mall developer ultimately reached a deal to purchase the land.)
Page 2 of 2 - I bring all of this up to remind you of how towns like Neosho used to grow. No tax increases to improve a developer’s land on the backs of taxpayers. No “free lunches” with MoDOT paying for traffic lights. It was done with private individuals negotiating private deals with the free market dictating the terms and the price.
Today, we’ve become more “expecting” of government help. Terms like TDD’s, CID’s and TIF’s now put governments in the position to choose winners and losers — to take taxpayer funds and pay for things that were once considered a cost of doing business.
I’m not saying that government should never work to help businesses or local communities, but it’s almost become expected for such subsidies to be part of “economic development packages” used to recruit new businesses and expand existing ones — all while the local, state, and the federal government find it harder and harder to balance budgets and pay for public safety, upkeep of roads and other existing infrastructure.
The good news is Neosho has a lot to offer businesses. Our city has survived many a challenge while coming out stronger in the long run. Our population continues to grow and people continue to invest and prosper in our community — even without Uncle Sam handing them money. And your city council continues to be open to finding ways to attract new businesses and expand those already here. I just prefer doing it without the taxpayer having to give an arm and a leg in the process!
Don’t forget about the Neosho Pet Fair being held tomorrow, Saturday, at the Lampo Building. It runs from 1pm to 4pm. I hope to see some of you there.
Until next: keep the faith, stay the course, and may God bless Neosho!
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.