Part four in a five-part series addressing Camden County's most pressing needs ahead of the August 2014 primary election.
As the nation struggles to rebound from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, elected officials have the tough task of generating a productive business climate in a sluggish economy. Development has surged in eastern Osage Beach and in western Miller County, while things have gotten worse in west Osage Beach. Camdenton still sees a disproportionately high number of closed businesses and blighted districts were considered for parts of Sunrise Beach and Macks Creek as recently as a couple of years ago.
The task of fostering a thriving business environment is no doubt an arduous task, but what's still unclear is how Camden County can keep up with its neighbors and with its own cities.
On the municipal level
Two of the lake communities often cited for leading the charge in retail development are Osage Beach and Lake Ozark.
Osage Beach — located mostly in Camden County — is credited with breaking into the national retail scene with the Osage Beach Premium Outlets in 1986, followed more than a decade later by Prewitt’s Point in 2001. A string of chain retailers and restaurants has followed, including St. Louis-based Dierbergs Market two years ago.
On the other side of the county border in Miller County is Lake Ozark, which was the poster child for missed opportunities for several years, but now claims its corner of the market with the Shoppes at Eagles’ Landing and a handful of new businesses on the Bagnell Dam Strip.
Their common philosophy is simple, and paraphrased a famous line from “Field of Dreams”: If you build it, they will come.
Both communities have relied on Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), an economic development tool, to help spur development.
Prewitt’s Point was awarded the first TIF in the lake area through the city of Osage Beach. Prewitt Enterprises was founded by Gary Prewitt in 1990.
Andy Prewitt of Prewitt Enterprises notes that Gary was born and raised in the lake area. Developing property that his family owned was a natural fit.
“Gary saw huge numbers of people enjoying the area and realized that there was a deficiency in retail,” Prewitt said. “He had the forethought and vision to fill that gap.”
A key to Osage Beach’s success has been its vision to build the infrastructure needed for major development.
“The city has been very proactive with building infrastructure and providing other services in-house to support new businesses,” Mayor Penny Lyons said.
The services are available to anyone who needs information on zoning, utility costs, building requirements, other fees and licenses and various statistics necessary to make an informed decision, she explained.
“We are very fortunate to have a well-trained, hands-on staff that can answer most of the questions a new business may have in locating in Osage Beach,” Lyons explained.
The majority of Osage Beach’s budget is derived from sales tax revenue, and city officials believe it’s important to support retail development with realistic information on the area that is readily available to prospective businesses.
Lyons said the board and staff attend various seminars and training sessions to keep current on the last in development for municipalities.
“We are always available to meet and answer any inquiries,” the mayor said.
Another feather in the retail cap of Osage Beach is the expansion of Dierbergs into the local grocery store market. Dierbergs, open less than two years now, expanded from its home base of the St. Louis area with the help of not only a TIF but a Transportation Development District (TDD).
City Administrator Nancy Viselli said Dierbergs contacted both Osage Beach and Lake Ozark officials before deciding to locate in Osage Beach.
“They asked me why they should build in Osage Beach, and I told them because we already have the water and sewer infrastructure they needed,” Viselli said.
Osage Beach has seen its share of business development, but economic woes west of the Grand Glaize Beach on Osage Beach Parkway seem to have the city stymied. Since the opening of Highway 54 Expressway, the Key Largo interchange debacle, and the abandonment of the Parkway west of Lazy Days Road, the business climate west of the bridge has suffered.
The most recent possible solution is activation of the Citizens Advisory Committee, which is trying to figure out ways to increase traffic to the area.
While Lake Ozark doesn’t actively recruit businesses, City Administrator Dave Van Dee used the same “build it and they will come” analogy in explaining the city’s recent success.
“A lot of our success has to do with the economic market and opportunities that came along,” he explained.
Infrastructure is equally important to attracting business in Lake Ozark. The city recently completed a much-needed 10-inch water main to serve Bagnell Dam Blvd., and Van Dee said that should help spur development.
“It’s been a combination of a lot of things,” he said, “and we’re always trying to enhance our infrastructure and figure out how to expand utilities into a particular area.”
Gary Prewitt is also leaving his mark on the community with the Shoppes at Eagles’ Landing, and more recently the announcement of another major retail development along Highway 54.
Van Dee said Prewitt developed a land pad where Kohl’s, Menards, CVS, Osage Cine 8 and Buffalo Wild Wings is located. He’s also creating a development site parallel to Highway 54 near the Osage River Bridge and Route 242.
Van Dee said having those types of developable locations helps attract interest.
As in Osage Beach, Lake Ozark officials are always willing to work with potential developers and continue to develop policies and databases for business inquiries.
With development ramping up in the eastern part of the county along the Camden/Miller border, things are a little different in the interior part of the county. Like many cities, Camdenton saw a decrease in sales tax when the recession hit the economy. From fiscal year 2008-2009, Camdenton saw a 4.25 percent decrease in sales tax in year 2009-2010. The city did not catch back up until fiscal year 2012-2013. In the most recent year, the city's sales tax increase 1.6 percent from the previous year.
City officials are attempting to be proactive in attracting businesses to the area. For City Administrator Jeff Hancock, upgrading some of the city's plans is one way to prepare for new businesses.
"I believe Camdenton’s main priority is to establish an open and accepting attitude toward both existing and future business. To get ready for new business we are upgrading our five year water and sewer plans and also our plans at the Airport Business Park. We will soon be accepting proposals for the update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan which will obtain not only our citizens but our major player’s input on the community’s future and vision," Hancock said. "In addition, one of our highest concentrations is to continue the airport runway extension project. This project will make the airport the corporate airport of the Lake region. We are now beginning the acquisition of the properties on this important regional project."
According to Hancock, the city is looking for industrial and manufacturing development which will hopefully create full-time not part-time and seasonal jobs.
"Obviously, retail is also important since it not only pays the bills, it also provides needed services to our residents and visitors. We are also aggressively assisting our partners in both of these endeavors," Hancock added. "In addition one cannot forget the role that housing can play to both of these activities. We are actively working with LORDEC, the Lake of the Ozarks Council of Governments, and our local investors and developers toward positioning ourselves toward meeting needed housing. All of these activities work to enhance the community’s overall economic development well being and overall strategy."
Hancock believes that being the home of the county courthouse puts the city in an important role. He said that he believes that the city should serve the the county government to the best of its ability and in turn the county should look to them as a partner in economic development.
In April, the city made a move that will create 18 new jobs for a five year period. The city approved the leasing of a 16,580 sq ft. Galva Foam Building to FiberGlass Tank Solutions, LLC. The building had been vacant since early 2012. The five year maximum lease at the Camdenton Memorial Airport includes an approximate 3.6 acre site of a previous 9 acre site and calls for approximately $50,000 in improvements and a required minimum of five jobs. Camdenton obtained natural gas service from Summit Natural Gas for the business. The company’s business plan calls for an anticipated 18 new jobs during the total lease period.
On the county level
An enhanced enterprise zone (EEZ) was proposed in Camden County in recent years but was never approved by the county commission after some citizens opposed the EEZ.
Since then, Missouri Works has been implemented to phase out EEZs though the new program similarly offers state tax credit incentives for new job creation based on certain eligibility requirements. While EEZs were set up by local governments in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) based on demographic criteria, Missouri Works also provides benefits for businesses creating new jobs in "rural" counties, of which Camden is one, and for larger business projects.
In addition to Missouri Works, the state DED has several other statewide business and community development programs.
Incentive initiatives that can be offered by local governments alone to assist or encourage development mainly include community improvement districts (CIDs) and tax increment financing (TIF), according to the Missouri Economic Development Council.
TIFs can be set up on properties under classifications of "blighted", "conservation" or "economic development." Under a TIF, a portion of local property and sales tax from a project above the existing tax base can be designated to help fund eligible expenses of the development in order to make the development feasible.
While Camden County has a TIF ordinance in place, according to the clerk's office, the county commission has never been the lead organization in a TIF project. All the TIF districts that have been set up in the county — including that at Dierbergs and Woods in Sunrise Beach — have been inside municipal boundaries. The county commission is represented on the 11-member TIF boards of cities within its jurisdiction.
CIDs can also be set up on properties to help finance certain developments, but again, the county commission has not initiated a CID though they do exist on projects within the county.
On the regional level
The Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Council was formed a number of years ago to study and develop strategies to enhance economic development in the lake area. LOREDC was formed to promote a regional approach to marketing the lake Area. LOREDC consists of communities within a three county region in Central Missouri – Camden, Miller, and Morgan. The council is made up of representatives of business, governmental agencies and taxing entities who are working together to establish a stronger economic foundation.
The group is striving to be a results-oriented team, committed to matching business needs with the best possible location and services with a creative financing package that helps companies with their bottom line and gaining a competitive edge. Some services available include site and facility tours, research, financing, customized proposals, regulatory agency assistance, government liaison, workforce training and development and business advocacy.
Camden County does participate in LOREDC and pays a yearly membership fee.
LOREDC is one of the tools Camden County can use to take a more proactive role in economic development. The council has been promoting the advantages of regional activities and support. One of its first major projects, with the assistance of Ameren Missouri, was conducting the Quality of Labor Study. The ability to quantify the amount and quality of the area’s workforce was an essential first step as it has provided the data for many of the subsequent projects. The organization is also looking at housing and other issues that have a direct impact on economic growth and development.