MARYVILLE, Mo. — Nodaway County Economic Development Executive Director Josh McKim met with the Nodaway County Commission this week to sketch out his office’s objectives for 2019.
McKim’s remarks consisted of a broad outline only. However, he said he intends to offer a more detailed plan during a presentation set for 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17, at the Nodaway County Administration Center.
Noting that while encouraging industrial and retail investment remains an important function for NCED, McKim said he wants to usher in a heavier focus on agriculture and healthcare, industries that heretofore have been something of an economic development sidelight.
McKim said his office is keeping a close eye on the proposed sale of SSM Health St. Francis Hospital to St. Joseph-based Mosaic Life Care, and has spoken with Mosaic representatives about how the sale could affect local health care services and resources.
As for agriculture, McKim said there has always been a disconnect between ag and traditional economic development efforts — a division, he said, that begins as future professionals in both fields start forging careers as college students.
Economics and farm economics are considered two different disciplines said, just as business majors and “agribusiness” majors navigate separate degree programs.
The result, he said, is that development professionals, like himself, don’t know nearly as much about agriculture — by far northwest Missouri’s leading industry — as they should.
McKim said he is working to close that knowledge gap and wants to expand development efforts related to agriculture throughout the years ahead.
The main challenge, he said, is to add value to existing ag operations, which in this part of the country consist mainly of growing commodity crops like corn and soybeans and raising livestock, mainly cattle.
Commodities are problematic, he said, because such grains are sold wholesale and produce relatively low returns compared to “finished” food products.
South District Commissioner Robert Stiens agreed with this assessment, and said another challenge is that row-crop farmers sell their crops wholesale but essentially pay retail for seed, fertilizer, herbicides and other supplies.
This model is exactly the opposite of that employed by retailers and some manufacturing operations.
For a start, McKim suggested incentives that encourage establishment of cattle finishing and retail beef businesses.
“Too many cattle are raised here and then finished somewhere else,” he said. “All of that value is going to Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.”
On other fronts, McKim said NCED will continue to promote workforce development, a task he described as essential for local industries who currently have “hundreds of job openings” but lack trained, qualified applicants to fill them.
In an effort to ease the trained worker shortage, McKim said he has been talking with Northwest Technical School staff and reaching out to potential employees through the new Nodaway County Employment Opportunities site on Facebook.
Other initiatives involve beefing up apprenticeship and training programs and working with the Missouri Department of Corrections to funnel qualified former offenders into the workplace.
McKim also suggested creating an internet-driven “maker space” in which businesses, organizations and entrepreneurs could arrange to share specialized equipment and other resources.