Last Monday afternoon El Dorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackson Tough visited Jefferson City to address the Missouri Legislative Rural Economic Development Caucus.

State Representative Warren Love who invited Tough said “our legislators wanted to gain perspective on the status of rural economic development, better understand the functions of our rural chambers of commerce and the vital impact they have on their economy and community, plus hear about achievements that earned El Dorado Springs the Missouri Small Market Chamber of Commerce of the Year.” Approximately 15-20 legislators from around the state were in attendance as well as Cedar County Economic Developer Marge Vance.

Tough spoke on several topics including the function of rural chambers, which as he said, are essential to the economic growth of their respective communities. “Our chambers connect business principals through introductions, they facilitate projects, maintain data on their individual areas, keep a pulse on local, regional and national economic climates and stay abreast of pending projects and legislation (a public policy advocate). Our chambers also identify their respective community’s specific assets and opportunities, they’re instrumental in attracting business and industry to their area, they help create job opportunities, seek improvement of community facilities and infrastructure and serve as a partner to every community business.”

“And of course rural chambers are an economic development driver in our communities. Economic Development is as diverse as the communities in our state. From locating and retention of businesses, manufacturing, tourism, small business and entrepreneurial development, retiree recruitment, agribusiness and more. They’re all forms of economic development.”

The discussion then turned to some issues that Tough and Cedar County Economic Developer Marge Vance brought to the group. Tough told the group “There are several issues that we see affecting Missouri’s rural economic development today. Rural Broadband is one of the largest needs in Missouri. Faster and reliable internet is imperative for our existing businesses, schools, healthcare, prospective economic development and the quality of rural life in Missouri. There’s also a need to fund Small Business and Technology Developmental Centers for better access to vocational and technical schools, improving workforce development and resources for potential rural entrepreneurs. Missouri Works Tax incentives offer limited value to small rural businesses. Current Missouri Works may be a greater benefit to larger corporations but not so much for our smaller rural operations. Those are just a couple of areas for improvement.

Tough also mentioned the Missouri Chamber of Commerce project, “Missouri 2030, An Agenda to Lead” which is a plan to insure the state is able to compete in a global market, including our rural areas. Tough said “Missouri will be in a better position in the global economy because of the work we are doing today.”

More than 3,000 counties make up the United States. Today, census data shows 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.

As we work to improve rural Missouri, 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 and our local chambers are committed to ensuring that our state’s rural communities aren’t left out of economic solutions like those to improve 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.

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 a rural Missouri economy.

Tough said of the day at the capitol, “It was an honor to address the Rural Economic Development Caucus. I hope we were able to shed some light on the role of rural chambers of commerce and spotlight the state of economic development in our rural Missouri communities.”

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