EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was submitted as a response to Mayor Richard Davidson's March 1 column, "The economics of economic development."
Let's get our history straight about the facts of economic development from someone who was there, and not someone's acquired idea of how he thinks it was or should be.
In June of 1973, Paul Clemons and Ed Lusk, doing business as Medella Enterprises, bought the land now known as Walmart land from CE Eliff. In July 1977, Robert Foster and Larry Neff, under Red Carpet Enterprises, Inc., bought the land from Ms. Elizabeth Potts and started the plans to build a Ramada Inn motel (Neosho Inn).
In 1979, the city of Neosho committed $90,000 to run sewer to the intersection of highways 60 and 71. Robert Foster and I ran the water from the Terrace Motel to the Ramada / Neosho Inn, and the city helped with the sewer which ran from Neosho Boulevard to the golf course and on to the intersection of 60 and 71 highways. The total cost was approximately $250,000, with the city contributing $90,000 and Bob Foster and Larry Neff contributing $160,000. This got city sewer and water service to the south part of town and across 60 highway for the Walmart property.
In January 1980, the motel was opened with access only from the north on the existing outer road. This was far from ideal, but it was all we had. MoDOT would not allow us access to 60 highway. MoDOT rules on intersections state a road must be continuous on both sides before an intersection can be allowed. Walmart was not interested in the Clemons / Lusk property unless they had access from 60 highway to the north. In a cooperative effort, Robert Foster and I donated the property that is now Lusk Drive from 71 north at the stop light (the old Plymouth Rock motel) to the stop light on 60 highway, and the City of Neosho paid for labor and materials to put in Lusk Drive, spending several hundred thousand dollars. I believe the record will show that Neosho Economic Development Tax donated $10,000 toward the cost of the light at Lusk Drive. Lusk Drive now runs all the way through to Industrial Drive and is designed to go all the way south to AA highway as an outer road to meet MoDOT requirements. The Walmart property would never have been developed without the access from the north and the entrance off Industrial Drive to the south. I would also point out that the property that the Walmart store sits on belonged to the Adams family and they, in turn, sold enough acreage to Mr. Clemons to make the project work.
The signal at Clemons Drive was never in the original Walmart design plan. Clemons Drive was allowed by the city at the request of the developers, Mr. Ed Lusk and Mr. Paul Clemons, and also paid for by the developers.
MoDOT was doing improvements to 71/59 highway and those improvements included the closing of some of the crossovers on South 71 highway. Mr. Clemons owned approximately two outer lots in front of Walmart (currently Long John Silvers and CBT). These lots had no access to the 71/59 highway. To get this accomplished, MoDOT required the City of Neosho to take over South 71/59 because if the city wanted to give an access between 60 highway and Industrial Drive on 71/59, the new proposed road would not meet MoDOT required distance between intersections Highway 60 and Industrial Drive.
The City Council voted to take over 71/59 by bringing the highway into the City of Neosho and relieving MoDOT of its responsibility. They then gave Mr. Clemons the access to what is now Clemons Drive and the city continues to maintain 59 highway south and recently spent several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money (according to the Neosho Daily News) to complete much-needed maintenance to the road, and will continue to shoulder the cost of maintaining this four-lane highway for years to come.
The citizens of Neosho have always been aggressive when it comes to industrial and business growth. The most recent benefit of our aggressiveness is the Lowe's store, which received a reimbursement of about $400,000 (from TIF funds) for infrastructure that was necessary to have adequate streets and drainage.
Why this history lesson? Mr. Clemons and Mr. Lusk are to be complimented for their staying power and working with the City of Neosho, for without the city funds and cooperation, their land would not have been developed and the project never would have happened.
Who gained from the city's support and investment in these projects?
• Mr. Foster and I did because we gained access to 60 highway.
• The landowners north of 60 highway did.
• The landowners east of 71/59 highways where Lowe's is located did.
• The citizens of Neosho did in sales tax revenues, capital investment and the creation of several hundred jobs.
• Mr. Lusk and Mr. Clemons, along with their heirs, of which Mayor Davidson is one, did.
Now there are businesses around Walmart, i.e. motels, two banks, the new Aarons and area for future growth east.
Until recently, the Neosho City Council had always worked with developers and understood that our community prospers from growth that creates jobs and an increased tax base. There has been little growth in the last three years and no doubt this will continue until the city council must get back to working with the citizens and developers that are trying to create jobs and growth for the betterment of Neosho.
It is very important to note that approximately 50 percent of the sales taxes collected by businesses in the highway 60/59 area are paid by Neosho's citizens. The other 50 percent comes from loyal regional shoppers and if Neosho doesn't continue to grow the retain base, another community will and the regional shoppers will go elsewhere!
In closing, let me say that for 25 years, I have chaired the chamber's economic development committee. Neosho has used different methods of public tax incentives to help local businesses and industries expand or new ones locate to Neosho, including Marco Products / Mayor Richard Davidson's expansion in 2010 (per public records at the courthouse).
He and all local industries should get tax breaks for expansions, just as they would in surrounding cities and states. If we do not continue to offer incentives to businesses and retail through tax programs, TDD, TIF, and enterprise zones, other cities will and Neosho will suffer.
President, Neff Management and Development Inc.