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Chillicothe News - Chillicothe, MO
  • Significant segment of workforce making products shipped across U.S., world

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  • Band uniforms for high schools and major colleges. Fishing reels used by professional anglers. Shock absorbers. Robes worn by U.S. athletes at the London Olympics. Air filters for military vehicles. Industrial cables used in products that venture to outer space. T-shirts commemorating the Cardinals' 2011 World Series title. Parts used in aircraft assembled around the world.
    All products of labor long since gone from the United States, memories from an evaporating manufacturing base?
    Nope. Try items being manufactured in your backyard.
    While a common refrain nationally is the United States' manufacturing base has eroded, that jobs are gone and never coming back, a significant piece of the northern Missouri economy continues to thrive upon these jobs and people around the globe depend on the hidden gems produced here in northern Missouri.
    During the last decade, the number of Americans employed in manufacturing jobs tumbled from around 15.5 million in 2002 to a low of just more than 11 million in late 2009, during the most recent economic recession, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    Since then, however, manufacturing jobs have steadied and seen gains, recently topping more than 12 million in the U.S.
    And through those difficult times, northern Missouri's manufactures have continued to account for a significant percentage of both the overall workforce and region's economy.
    The reasons they've stayed while so many others have sought seemingly greener pastures overseas are numerous, according to the region's economic development leaders, including loyalty, ties to agriculture, and access to highways, waterways and rails found here in the nation's midsection.
    Terry Rumery, economic developer for Chillicothe, said manufacturers find the city's utility structure and its close proximity to a four-lane highway — Highway 36, which is the shortest route between Chicago and Kansas City — attractive.
    "The utility structure that Chillicothe Municipal Utilities has is outstanding for a community this size — the help from Farmers' Electric with the electric service to the two industrial parks, and the quality of life here is unheard of for a town of 9,500," Rumery said.
    Not to mention the fact Midwesterners have a reputation and live up to their billing.
    "The work ethic is good in rural America," said Jerry Boling, operation manager of Ardent Reel in Macon, Mo. "There is a workforce in our area who want to work, and work while they are at work."
    MidWest Gloves & Gear, in Chillicothe, manufactures and sells gloves and other cut-and-sew products worldwide, and is among Chillicothe's largest manufacturers.
    "Chillicothe has been our home for 50 years, because the workers are good, honest-going people who take pride in their job, the company, and community," said company President and CEO Steve Franke.
    Labor studies show that Chillicothe draws employees from a 60-mile radius, although most come from within 45 miles.
    Page 2 of 3 - A study of eight counties — Adair, Audrain, Cooper, Linn, Livingston, Macon, Ralls and Randolph — and statistics compiled by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center showed 6,892 people employed were by one of the 177 "firms" classified as manufacturers. That figure represents about 18 percent of the workforce engaged in private industry.
    Those workers represent a significant chunk of the region's economy beyond their employment status, taking home more than $256 million in wages, or nearly a quarter of the private industry payroll total.
    About 12 percent of Livingston County's workforce is employed in manufacturing jobs. Manufacturers pay out $18.8 million in wages each year, comprising just over 14 percent of all wages in the county, according to Missouri Economic Research and Information Center's manufacturing data of 2011.
    The impact manufacturers have on a region are far-reaching. Not only do they provide jobs and wages that benefit people, along with supplementary benefits, including health insurance, retirement and vacation; they pay taxes.
    "Their taxes help support the school systems and the local governments pay for their services that ultimately impacts everyone," Rumery said.
    Although mostly set out in the industrial parks, the manufacturers become part of the community.
    "The companies, themselves, often donate to local charities and causes and the employees often volunteer for those causes as well," Rumery said. "Without these companies, the citizens would see their taxes go up or their services would be cut. When communities don't have business in their area, they aren't able to have good police, fire, roads, or utility infrastructure systems, as they don't have the tax base to support it."
    And, as work continues across the region, products continue to be shipped to points across the world, moving the "Made in Missouri" stamp to places like China, Brazil, South Africa, and beyond.
    "People think America does not manufacture in the foreign market, but we do," said Sebastien Heintz, CEO of Zenith Aircraft Company in Mexico, Mo. "Some local companies right here profit off of exporting to foreign countries, which is neat."
    When looking to start up, relocate or expand, a manufacturer may be drawn to a community that has more to offer than Chillicothe. Some reasons manufacturers choose not to locate here, Rumery states, is the lack of a university; its distance from Kansas City; in some instances, worker skills may not be as advanced as some larger communities; some lack of utilities for larger prospects; the inability to offer some incentives; and the lack of a four-lane highway traveling north and south.
    Meanwhile, economic development efforts continue as communities vie for the next manufacturing prospect with package incentives. Chillicothe customizes all incentive packages to the prospect. Both the city and Livingston County have an enterprise zone, as do most other communities. Organizations, including Chillicothe Development Center, Chillicothe Development Inc., Chillicothe Municipal Utilities and Farmers Electric Cooperative and the city are aggressive in doing what is needed to help locate a prospective business, Rumery said.
    Page 3 of 3 - Some of what Chillicothe offers has nothing to do with benefit packages, though.
    "Chillicothe is a big little city that offers enough variety to support most business and family activities," Franke said. "It would be more convenient to be closer to the airport for all the traveling Midwest personnel do in North America, yet the inconvenience is well worth the benefits of being located in such a fine community."
    A message Rumery wants to send to prospective factories is that rural Missouri is starved for jobs that pay well and provide benefits, and that rural Missouri has a labor force available for a company that can provide those benefits.
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