Situated just south of Branson, Rick Ziegenfuss helps Hollister handle the influx of development while maintaining its small town identity.
2017 Projection: The Tri-Lakes area has additional initiatives, projects and economic development momentum, which could potentially increase.
SBJ: What are the area’s biggest challenges moving into 2017? Rick Ziegenfuss: Workforce continues to be a challenge. I think another big one is the perception that this is where old musicians go to die.
SBJ: Are there any regional challenges? Ziegenfuss: Branson’s budget annually is $50 million and Hollister’s is $5 million. If you compare two neighbors, there’s a vast gap in that. If you compared (Hollister) to Kimberling City or Forsyth, it would be the same inequities because those communities are much smaller. There is a spectrum here, but life goes on and the gap is closing because of economic development. All communities face challenges, but the Hollister of today is vastly different than the Hollister of 20 years ago. The Tri-Lakes region of today is vastly different.
SBJ: To what do you credit this shift? Ziegenfuss: The economic development professionals, the team that is representing the area, are vastly different than they were 20 years ago. Our relationships, the partnerships, the professional relationships are significantly different – more formally trained, more regionally and nationally connected. Today the economic development council attorney is in Kansas City. They are the best and brightest we can find throughout the region and the state. When we do work with economic development prospects, the deals that are negotiated and the ways our communities are represented are significantly different. Jonas Arjes [of the Taney County Partnership] was Economic Developer of the Year for the state of Missouri last year. I think that speaks volumes for the kind of team we are fielding.
SBJ: At last check-in, the Branson area had over $350 million in development projects in the works. What’s the latest outlook? Ziegenfuss: The Taney County Partnership has in its project pipeline $800 million in projects and that does not include what Mr. John Morris is doing on our south border with Big Cedar [Lodge], Dogwood Canyon, the Outdoor Academy, Buffalo Ridge, Top of the Rock and the other multiple golf courses under development. The $800 million in the pipeline does not include Menards that is already here or many of the other projects that have been completed.
SBJ: What new projects have doubled the pipeline since we last reported on it? Ziegenfuss: Jonas has confidentiality agreements on those. Menards, for example, was “Project Yellow.” La Quinta Inn was “Project Tiger.” On those $100 million-plus projects, the confidentiality is extremely critical.
SBJ: The Branson Airport recorded $21 million in combined net operating losses during its first four years in business and 2015 losses totaled $3.5 million. What do you expect to see from the Branson Airport in 2017? Ziegenfuss: The Branson Airport is part of this story. There will be a point in time when that airport will develop into something that is very significant and it won’t be the airport as it is seen today. It will be a very viable, commercial service airport. The Taney County Airport is in the top 10 general aviation airports in the state of Missouri. The nature of the destination and a lot of communities don’t have both general aviation and commercial service airports. That is part of our growth strategy.
I expect to see scheduled airline flights resume. As far as a financial turnaround, I think we will see progress made this year. I don’t think I can characterize it as a turnaround because the numbers are so large that it may take over five years.
SBJ: What are some ways you’re bridging the widening employment gap? Ziegenfuss: Branson, Hollister, Forsyth and Kirbyville schools are putting a concerted effort forward to relate curriculum to relevant careers. All juniors in the Hollister school district have the opportunity to get on a flight and go – this year it was to Houston and Denver – and learn about aviation related careers and the courses in high school and beyond that they need to do to get local jobs or regional jobs in aviation.
In Hollister, you can graduate today from high school with an associate degree. These are not dual credit courses. These are people who are specially selected, that are capable and they go to (Ozarks Technical Community College) and sit in college classes all day rather than high school classes. All of this is with an eye toward being career ready.