Our View: What does the future hold for rural Missouri?

DanOver the last two years, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been working with North Carolina economist Ted Abernathy on our Missouri 2030 strategic plan.

When designing the plan, we knew we could rely on our members to help us identify the most important issues we face here, inside our state. What Ted brings to the table is a broader perspective, an understanding of global economic trends.

Having Ted on our team helps ensure our work over the next 13 years makes sense from a macro perspective – that when we arrive in the year 2030, Missouri will be in a better position in the global economy because of the work we are doing today.

One of the most striking facts Ted has shared with us has to do with the global migration of people out of the country and into cities. Here in the United States, the census in 1900 showed that about 60 percent of Americans lived in rural counties. One hundred years later, the census showed that more than 80 percent of Americans lived in urban areas. What a change!

Here’s another way to think about it: More than 3,000 counties make up the United States. Today, census data show that more than half of the population is clustered inside just 146 counties.

This trend also holds true in Missouri, a state where more than 70 percent of the population lives in urban areas that encompass less than 3 percent of our state’s land.

While many rural Missouri communities remain strong, there are other places where population stagnation has led to increased poverty, diminished public services, a lack of health care options and underperforming schools.

To get to where we want to be in 2030, Missouri must address these issues.

As we work to improve rural Missouri, I think it’s important to discuss our goals and be clear about what we are working toward. As we do, we must understand one hard truth: There are likely no policies we can enact in our state that can reverse urbanization, which is ultimately a global trend.

A better goal is to help prosperity grow in ways that are independent from population growth.

To do this, the Missouri Chamber is committed to ensuring that our state’s rural communities aren’t left out of solutions to improve our transportation infrastructure. That they share in the benefits of advancing technology and internet connectivity. That capital funding is available to help get rural startups off the ground. That advancements in how we educate our workforce are relevant and applicable in rural classrooms. That efforts to attract economic expansion include a strong focus on rural jobs.

But there’s another important aspect to bringing prosperity to rural Missouri. And that involves recognizing and empowering private-sector businesses and entrepreneurs who know how to thrive in rural Missouri.

That’s the theme of this issue of Missouri Business magazine. We want to illustrate just a few of the many bright parts of Missouri’s diverse rural economy.

That includes companies like Brewer Science that are attracting and growing a high-tech rural workforce. Then there’s Classic Buildings, a company that’s used web technology to help spur strong growth in Linn.

We also profile innovative businesses like Burgers’ Smokehouse and Eolia-based American Botanicals, which is using access to capital to help it grow into an important bulk supplier for the growing natural remedy and supplement business.

And we highlight a community in northwest Missouri that is on the front line of the green energy revolution.

I regularly travel to rural communities to talk about the issues and opportunities facing our state and how Missouri 2030 will help put us on a better path. If you’d like to talk more about our work, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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