Over the last several years I have used my column in the Chamber newsletter to tout the many good and positive things about St. Joseph, of which there are
many. However, this month I talked about the challenges and the not-so-positive things facing our community. I do this reluctantly because I have grown to love St. Joseph and do not want to be perceived otherwise, but we must face the issues that, in my opinion, are holding us back. The following is a brief summary of what I believe our biggest challenges are today:
School District – Yes, the past has been difficult and things are getting better, but what is to be done about future funding? A recent Chamber survey of businesses indicated more than 60 percent wanted to see a School District tax levy considered. Public education is critical to the future of St. Joseph and as such, there should be discussion and public engagement on this vitally important issue. The community needs a plan.
Workforce Preparedness – The good news is that we are making progress thanks to the partnership between business, the School District and Missouri Western State University. But the problem is now, and we must commit to moving quicker. You have heard me talk about the lack of applicants to fill jobs, but think about the 200+ students coming out of high school who do not go on to further education and, without skills and further training, end up in low skill
jobs at low pay. Want to do something about the poverty rate? Give kids the education and training to get a good-paying job.Those jobs are here in St. Joseph.
Community Appearance – Let’s agree that St. Joseph as a whole could make a better impression. There are a number of reasons for unkept properties, but until we admit we have a problem, nothing is going to happen. It will require focus, resources and yes, meaningful City regulation. But, it can be done as other cities have demonstrated.
Downtown – For the first time in many years, Downtown has a chance to be the catalyst for a better St. Joseph. Years of hope and public investment have
resulted in a flurry of new private investment. These opportunities do not come along often in the life of downtowns. We need to be all-in; public and private,
taking advantage of this opportunity. We better not waver in keeping the momentum going or it will pass us by.
Leadership – Nothing happens without good community leadership, both public and private. We need to face our challenges collectively and be willing to make the tough decisions to move St. Joseph forward. The community is ready for good leadership and the progress it can bring. Those in leadership today need to deliver and if not, others need to step forward.
I write about this because I am both concerned and frustrated. This is a great place with great, well-meaning people, but our opportunities are passing us by. As a community we must develop a sense of urgency, focus on the critical challenges and create a desire for action. If not now, when?
R. Patt Lilly