I appreciated Mr. Larry Neff's history lesson in response to my article last week on my granddad's contribution to Neosho's economic growth. It's always good that people know the history of how things became what they are today. We can also learn from history's mistakes and build on history's successes. Growing up around my granddad, and until his death in 2000, I learned a lot about business from him – most memorable to me being the importance of a firm handshake and standing behind one's word.
I want to start by clarifying a few things from that history lesson as some points became a bit muddied or taken out of context. Mr. Neff said "There has been little growth in the last three years and no doubt this will continue until the city council stops working against economic development efforts." That's a pretty bold statement. I won't take the time to list all of the ribbon cutting events and expansion awards that have been given out by the chamber over the past three years. But that statement on growth certainly doesn't reflect reality in more than one way.
That's not to say we've seen robust growth. But since my time on the council (which started in 2009), many factors have impacted growth in Neosho. One being the recession that plagued the country well into 2009 and unstable economic growth well into 2011 and beyond. With unemployment rates just now coming down below 8 percent, the last three years has been a struggle for everyone, not just Neosho. But despite the economic challenges faced by the country, we've seen some very good growth by a number of businesses and industries in Neosho – mine included. Another impact was the tornado of 2011 and the literally billions of dollars that will be invested in Joplin over the next decade to rebuild and compete for jobs and industry. It will be hard for ANY town around Joplin to compete with that.
As to working against economic development efforts, I'm not sure I agree there either. Past efforts of extending water and sewer service to new businesses still occurs. In fact, over the past three years, the council has approved 100 percent of the requests for such extensions to help new businesses. We've also prioritized efforts to resurface Hwy 59 and streets in front of Wal-Mart to keep our retail area appealing (The council did cancel the chamber contract paid for by the ED sales tax fund, but that was because those funds were prohibited by law from being spent for such uses).
Neff also made a point to mention that my business (like all other businesses in the industrial park) received short-term tax abatement on any new investment. That's true. But to get it, you have to spend it. I spent over $500,000 on a new building to create more jobs and grow my business. For that, I'm given a few years (and a few thousand dollars) of property tax abatement. The Enhanced Enterprise Zone provides for that to happen, but it requires PRIVATE investment and job creation FIRST! (FYI, that zone was created in 1990 and renewed in 2004. It is administered by Mr. Gib Garrow and others at the chamber – not the city of Neosho.)
Lastly, and most important, is the point that I was hoping to make from last week – that being the need for continued PRIVATE investment and to avoid the move toward GOVERNMENT (a.k.a. the taxpayer) taking the place of and assuming risk for the private investor. All of the historical events that Mr. Neff spoke about revolved around private groups spending millions of dollars to make projects happen. But the new TDD and its $10-plus million budget in TAXPAYER-funded spending is, at least in part, speculative. It's assuming that putting in roads and having more-convenient access to property will draw business – speculation being paid for by the taxpayer – speculation that would once have been paid for by private investors like Mr. Neff and Mr. Clemons. (We learned from Hwy 86 speculation that spending millions in taxpayer funds on widening it didn't equate to the economic boom some sought.)
So I again thank Mr. Neff and applaud the work he, Mr. Foster, Mr. Clemons and others did to make Neosho what it is today. But remember, just because a group of five elected officials occasionally raises a question or insists on doing things the different way, it doesn't mean we're against economic development. We just have some additional roles and responsibilities to those who put us in office – the people. We are responsible and accountable to them on how we spend the people's money.
Good luck to the local dancers competing this weekend in Oklahoma City (my daughter Kyndall is one of them.) If you have time, make a point to come down Tuesday morning for the ribbon cutting and expansion awards for Mitchell's Downtown Drug Store and Prime Care Family Medicine. They are located just east of the post office. It starts at 8 a.m. I hope to see you there!
Until next time: keep the faith, stay the course, and may God bless Neosho!