Salem’s economic development head spearheaded a meeting in Houston for the South Central Missouri region, bringing together heads from across Dent and Texas counties and others as well as representatives from the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), Rep. Jason Smith’s office, Intercounty Electric (which provided lunch from Savor Grill & BBQ).
The meeting was hosted at the Durham Co., an electric utility manufacturer in Houston that boasts 300 employees with room for more.
According to Sally Burbridge, the purpose of the gathering was to bring together people from throughout the rural portions of the Ozarks, particularly those living in areas in region nine of MRPC (where Salem and Dent County come in) and the South Central Council of Governments (where Houston and Texas County come in). Burbridge said that she hopes that such a meeting will help solidify cohesion of vision in order to better articulate to the state how best to lift up the region as a whole.
Despite the fact that these two areas are identified and encouraged to develop by separate regional planning commissions (RPCs), they are still economically interconnected in the substantive sense of exchanging many jobs as people commute from Dent to Texas, Texas to Phelps, Phelps to Dent, Howell to Texas, and more for both work and other regular functions as well as overlapping representation at both state and national levels.
They are also connected in less obvious ways, with factors like similar demographics such as poverty levels, unemployment rates, familial and cultural ties, and infrastructure at the state level are all key pieces of the puzzle in our region of Missouri and the Ozarks.
When one county benefits in this region, they all do in some way, according to Burbridge. Often it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause and effect relationships between neighboring counties, but according to Burbridge when data is tabulated those relationships are there.
Quasi-governmental state agencies like the RPCs can help tabulate that data and sort through much of the bureaucratic red tape so that local governments can focus on the details of improving their communities. However, RPCs and local governments should only be a piece of that puzzle; other important parts include citizen involvement through community action groups as well as businesses in the area who stand to gain from lifting up the region.
Burbridge shared that she hopes that rubbing elbows with one another at events like this will help create the cohesiveness that is necessary to get things done.
One issue discussed at the meeting is something that has been and will continue to be an ongoing discussion for rural areas — broadband expansion. Another item discussed at great length was the potential highway expansion of U.S. 63. The expansion, if implemented in full as many at the meeting hope, will upgrade the highway to a four lane system on U.S. 63 from Jefferson City to the Arkansas line.
Nothing of great substance was added to the mix in this meeting regarding the next steps on either issue; however, introductions were made, the ears of neighbors were bent and ideas were shared and seeds sown.
After the meeting, Burbridge expressed an optimistic outlook on what next steps will need to be taken.
“We’ve just got to figure out how to work together in order to move up together,” said Burbridge. She continues to champion the south central region of Missouri as being one and needing to stand as one to make their needs heard at the state level as well as to work together to develop each others’ communities.