Optimism was high at Wednesday’s Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee meeting.
Mike Franks, executive director, Neosho Area Business & Industrial Foundation, Inc., Reported that much is happening downtown. Franks said the owner of The Pearl, which just moved downtown, reported that traffic has increased tremendously since the recent move.
Continuing his discussion on retail development, Franks expressed hopefulness that Dawn Lafreeda, franchisee of the Denny’s restaurant that opened last week in the former Shoney’s facility, will come to Neosho when her 75th Denny’s holds its grand opening celebration next month. He noted that the excavation work is completed for the Love’s Travel Center now under construction on Missouri Highway 86 at Interstate 49. Though delayed some, Franks said the company still hopes to open by Thanksgiving.
Franks told the committee that plans and financing for the Transportation Development District (TDD) will be finalized by Sept. 15, which will trigger a Nov. bid sheet for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). Once that occurs, he said discussion will begin with retailers interested in becoming anchors.
Franks reported that a Spring 2015 build is planned for TDD roads. He said the Hale McGinty Extension is a priority, with hopes of having that completed before the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
“We will see a dramatic safety improvement around Carver [Elementary] and the middle school,” Franks said.
Dan Decker, superintendent, Neosho R-5 School District, reported that the 17 new propane school buses the district has purchased would arrive this week, and those buses were in fact paraded to the R-5 bus barn on Thursday.
Decker said new teachers will report on Aug. 5, all teachers are due Aug. 7, and the new school year will begin Aug. 13. He said banners are going up at the high school to explain to the public the FEMA storm shelter projects going up at the high school and at Carver and South elementaries. Decker said the banner also explains to the public that the FEMA shelters are for anyone in the community at any time of day when severe weather strikes.
He said the high school shelter will have a 2,362 person capacity, and added that he is hopeful that FEMA shelters will be constructed at all district schools. Decker noted that a second banner at the high school will explain the need for the junior high school, and thus the need for patrons to approve the $24 million bond issue on the Aug. 5 ballot.
Dr. Jennifer Methvin, president, Crowder College, reported that the Neosho-based school again earned the distinction of “Great College to Work For,” as Crowder did in 2011. In the two months she has been on board, Methvin said a good number of employees have reported to her what a great place Crowder is to work.
“It’s your colleagues that you work with that make a great place to work. It’s exciting that Crowder College is that kind of place!” she said.
Methvin said that a $1 million non-capital anonymous gift recently received by the school will go toward program development, student support and student travel.
“That donor said Crowder has always done great things for students, has great programs, and does what they say they will do.”
Methvin explained that Crowder gets great private support from very generous givers.
“So much of what we do is because of private giving, an important thing and a pretty rare thing,” she said.
She noted that the expectation and the mission are to keep tuition low, and the school works aggressively to acquire grant funding to gain classroom space. She concluded, “Grant funding and private giving will be important going forward,” and added that a long list of Crowder programs are enhanced by such gifts.
Troy Royer, city manager, reported that Neosho sales tax revenues are up 1.5 percent over what was budgeted for this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. Royer expressed concern that four bills approved by the legislature and vetoed by the governor could have a dramatic effect on sales tax receipts if the legislature would override those vetoes in Sept. He said numbers supplied by the governor indicated 12 percent of sales taxes could be lost statewide, and that will be a consideration as the city council develops a budget for the new fiscal year in the coming weeks.
Royer announced that the city has begun a seven-year road improvement plan, spending almost $400,000 this year. He said almost 7,400 feet of overlay has been done, including on South, Walnut, Spring, Cemetery, Riverside and other roads, and 30,000 feet of city streets are receiving slurry seal. Royer said striping will be done when re-paving is completed. He said some other projects to complete parking lots and refurbish alleys have been completed in the downtown area.
Royer reported that the airport lighting project is completed, but warned that other airport projects are on hold. He explained that many airport projects receive major funding through MoDOT Aviation, and that funding could dry up if Amendment 7 is not approved when voters go to the polls on Aug. 5.
Marilyn Ruestman, presiding commission, said Newton County officials are concerned about the possible loss of sales tax revenues if the governor’s vetoes on the aforementioned four bills are overridden by the legislature, but does not believe the impact would be as dramatic as portrayed by the governor. She reported that county sales tax revenues are also up this year.
Ruestman said the county will soon interview architects to design the renovation of the former Smith Financial building the county recently purchased across the street from the courthouse. She said a $1 million to $1.5 million budget is planned for the renovation, and added that the architects will determine whether it is the courts that are moved from the courthouse, or if it will be other administrative county offices that move. She hopes the work will be completed in 2015.
Reporting on current economic development activities, Franks stated that Haas Warehousing, recently acquired by John Branham, has completed a 12,000 square feet expansion, and another 5,000 square feet will be added. Franks said Smith Power Sports is doing a 5,000 square feet expansion, and added that more people are looking at space in the industrial park.
He reported that AT&T will upgrade its cellphone internet services in the community from 4-G to LTE in August, and an upgrade to its internet service will double download speed capabilities. Franks said the company will install a new cellphone tower in the industrial park, improving service in that section of town, including around Crowder College.
Concerning the Crowder Global Gateway Intermodel Facility, Franks remarked that the city has done all they can to pave the way for project, including providing easements and land options. He hopes to have an engineering and cost analysis completed in August, and said proponents should know if the project will move forward by the end of the year.