St. Joseph Economic Activity Impresses Site Selector

St. Joseph Economic Development & City Itself Wows Migdal

ED201420“Beyond impressed,” were the words used most often to describe St. Joseph’s economy by a national site selector at the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Economic Summit Luncheon on Nov. 6.

Bradley Migdal, Executive Managing Director of Transwestern, was brought to St. Joseph to perform an assessment of the city, its available property and the St. Joseph Economic Development Partnership to give business leaders a better understanding of how St. Joseph can improve in the national economy. He presented his findings at the Economic Summit.

“St. Joseph really blew my mind,” he said. “This is a really unique town. You have a great architectural downtown. The buildings are spectacular.”

Besides being impressed with St. Joseph’s architecture and amenities, Mr. Migdal was happy to see the partners that come together who make economic development a priority.

“I’m beyond impressed by the number of people here today that support economic development,” he said of the 180 people in attendance at the Summit. “I do this all over the country. You should be proud of your community and the team support you offer.”

St. Joseph Weathered the Great Recession Better than Most Missouri Cities

St. Joseph weathered the Great Recession quite well, growing employment in 2006-2011 when the majority of other Missouri cities lost employment. A recent Gallup poll conducted for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce stated that growth slowed over most of the last three decades “except in St. Joseph (one of the top consistently growing Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country 2001-2011).”

The Economic Summit also served as a vehicle to highlight recent economic development successes.

“You’re doing everything right,” Mr. Migdal said. “So what else can you do better? You are so far ahead of the curve, it’s incredible.”

However, there are a few down sides that come along with the success. Because St. Joseph hasn’t had many companies close or move, there isn’t a lot of available space for new companies to move into. Mr. Migdal said it is very expensive to build from the ground up and many companies are looking to locate into existing buildings.

He said St. Joseph has industrial parks and infrastructure in place, but the sites left are on the smaller size. There aren’t any existing modern products available. The inventory on the market is older in nature.

St. Joseph has consistently had lower unemployment rates than the state and national averages. However, when he helps companies find places to locate, he often looks for cities with high unemployment rates because that means there are more available workers.

“All across the country there is such a lack of skilled labor,” he said. “There are lots of people like me with multiple degrees but can’t do anything with their hands. We don’t have the engineering background that built this country.”

Mr. Migdal said companies are looking for cities with a sizable skilled worker population. They need people who are welders, machinists, CNC operators and engineers. He encouraged those in attendance to get elementary and middle school students interested in manufacturing and to work with local companies to do tours of facilities so kids can see that modern manufacturing is more than just passing a product down the line. It’s skilled labor that involves math, engineering and lasers.

“Have you ever seen a welder work?” he asked. “It’s an art and is incredibly difficult.”

Companies coming back to the U.S.

One of the current trends in the global economy is that companies are starting to return manufacturing to the U.S. because of rising costs overseas, cost of shipping and reassembly and problems with foreign labor sources.

“American workers are more loyal and the U.S. is still a main source for consumer goods,” he said. “It makes sense to make the products here.”

He said rail transportation is going to be ever more important in the coming years and that Kansas City is a rail transportation hub. With St. Joseph being so close to Kansas City, St. Joseph could capitalize on that in the near future.

Millennials and Downtown

St. Joseph’s downtown is a prime location for companies hoping to attract millennials. The large buildings provide much coveted open space for creative minds. He said there is excellent activity downtown with plenty of residential lofts, bars, shops and restaurants.

“Millennials want to work, walk somewhere to have dinner and drinks and walk home,” he said. “They don’t want to work past 5:30 and they don’t want to drive. If they do work late, it’s because they are in a modern, creative environment and they are close to home.”

Mr. Migdal said the upcoming opening of a coffee roasterie will be a great addition to downtown, as well as Mosaic Life Care’s upcoming move of at least 200 employees from its Business Plaza to the heart of downtown to the German-American building at 624 Felix St. It also purchased two additional properties at 620 and 618 Felix Street as a part of the remodel. Those employees will help downtown businesses survive.

To help the downtown revival, businesses that serve residents like a grocery store or drug store need to open, he said.

“You are doing a lot right, you can only get better from here,” he said.