Ozarks Communities: Open for Business

On Thursday, October 23, two Ozarks-area city governments each made their own overtures to the development community. At separate high profile events, each city had the same message: “we are open for business – ready to help developers build here.” 

The city of Republic hosted a bus tour of the community, toting residential and commercial builders and developers all over town to see firsthand the many prime opportunities Republic has to offer. HBA President Kevin Clingan and President-Elect Rusty MacLachlan were aboard the tour, and both were impressed by the city’s progressive attitude toward growth.

The approach Republic has taken in recent years should be instructive to other communities throughout the Ozarks. The city recognized that growth was coming, but Republic city leaders didn’t cower in fear. They didn’t attempt in vain to stop or slow down the coming growth. To the contrary, they recognized that growth and economic development had the potential to offer enormous benefits to their community. All that was necessary was a little planning. 
And plan they did. Republic’s approach to sewer trunk line extension may be the most ambitious in the entire region. Initially, some wondered why the city would go to all the expense of building sewer lines where no development had occurred. But it soon became clear the strategy was effective. Those sewer lines were used to guide and accommodate growth as it arrived. Republic city leaders had mapped out precisely how they wanted their city to grow. They used sewer lines as their land use plan, and it has worked remarkably well. Now Republic is poised for its next big boom. Far from hiding from growth, this city is courting it – even in a soft economy. 
The other city aggressively pursuing new growth and development is Ozark. On the same night Kevin and Rusty were touring Republic, Steve Hamm and I attended an economic development dinner hosted by the City of Ozark and the Ozark Chamber of Commerce. City Administrator Steve Childers delivered a presentation outlining the growth history of Ozark, as well as opportunities for today and the future.
Childers and other Ozark city leaders were not the least bit coy about their message: they want growth, they want economic development, and (most importantly) they want the city to be a partner – not an obstacle – to builders and developers.
Over the last two years, Ozark city officials have worked hard to improve the city’s damaged reputation with the development community. The reports we receive at the HBA from builder members who build there are that the city has taken on a less bureaucratic, more “customer service” approach. Reputations can be slow to change, but the city took an important step in the right direction with its message on October 23.
The message coming out of Republic and Ozark is refreshing.  It is no secret that the HBA has had its share of disagreements with these cities in the past. But in 2008, these two cities seem to understand what some others in the area still haven’t yet discovered: they need us as much as we need them.
It seems every municipality in America is suffering revenue shortfalls. The solution is almost too obvious: growth and development are the lifeline cities so desperately need in these difficult economic times. Most cities want commercial (especially retail) development because of the sales tax revenues. But local governments would be wise to be just as welcoming of residential growth. New homes house the customers that will spend dollars in their communities. The construction of homes overwhelmingly relies on locally-sold building materials – which means substantial sales tax revenues. Growth in residential construction should be an essential part of any progressive city’s success plan.

Cities like Ozark and Republic seem to get that. Cities and counties across the region would do well to follow the lead of these ambitious cities.