by Karen E. Culp
With the Partnership Industrial Center now about 80 percent full, the partners in the project are now looking at the possibility of a second industrial park in Springfield, an idea that brought mixed reactions at City Council's Dec. 14 meeting.
The council reviewed, heard public comment on and then tabled a resolution establishing guidelines for a new park. The resolution was also amended twice, and once it was tabled, the council indicated it would appoint a task force to study the economic impact of a second park.
One council member, Conrad Griggs, questioned whether the city should be in the business of industrial development, and a succession of local manufacturers spoke against a second park, citing a tight labor market in Springfield and difficulty in filling their own factories with qualified workers.
Others pointed out the need for a second park, quoting the findings of a recent consultant's study that indicated the city is ready for more industrial space. Greg Williams, manager of business development for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that many of the issues raised at the council meeting have been addressed by the Springfield Business and Development Corporation, the agency that has been guiding the review process all along.
"A number of the things that were mentioned Monday night (Dec. 14) have been addressed either in the consultant's report or in various research that has been conducted on the feasibility of a second park," Williams said.
As it now stands, the development of a second park would involve the same principal partners that were involved in the first park: the city, City Utilities, and the Chamber of Commerce. One change that will be made is that the Springfield Business and Development Corporation will be the owner and developer of the park, and will get its funding from banks who have already pledged the up-front money, said Tom Finnie, city manager.
The SBDC has not selected a site for a new park yet, Williams said, but the St. Louis consultant, Economic Development Resources, who prepared the study last summer, looked at eight potential sites for development. A new park would have to be at least 250 acres, Williams said, and would be designated for heavy manufacturing uses.
"What we looked at when we developed the first industrial center was not just job creation and economic development, but at utility load factors and how manufacturing customers would benefit City Utilities, Williams said.
Though that is a factor with the development of a second park, Karl Plumpe, who handles the development of the Partnership Industrial Center for CU, said pending deregulation could affect how beneficial a second park would be.
"We don't know, at this point, what is coming down the road with deregulation, but we would hope the utility will still see some benefits from a second park," Plumpe said.
In a deregulated environment, those heavy manufacturing customers could choose another utility company for their electric needs. Industrial customers, who are high-end electric users, keep load factors for CU's system high, Plumpe said.
The topic that kept coming up at the council meeting was whether the community of Springfield has the labor force to support more manufacturing jobs.
Citing recent unemployment of as low as 2.5 percent, Thomas Singleton, the co-owner of Precision Stainless, said his company has had a difficult time finding qualified people.
Jack Gentry, founder of Positronic Industries, said it was "premature for the city to consider the development of a new industrial park with the considerable shortage of available labor."
Gentry also said the 250-acre park would be too large, and that he favored two or three smaller parks.
"The smaller developments are more successful; they are more comfortable to be in," Gentry said.
Williams said there are no plans for breaking up into smaller parks.
The council tabled the resolution, which, among other things, asked for a park to be within the Springfield Public School district, so that the district would benefit from the property taxes.
Council will appoint a task force to study the economic impact of a second park.
Mayor Lee Gannaway said members of the SBDC would be invited to serve on that study committee. The proposal would probably cause a 45- to 60-day delay in the industrial park project, Williams said.
"I am not frustrated with the council review, but I hope the council would consider the work that has been done before," Williams said.
Jack Stack, whose company, Springfield ReManufacturing Corp., has located one of its businesses in the Partnership Industrial Center, said the company finds it so much easier to go into a planned development like the park.
"The first industrial park project was a good project. We've got a property in there and several other local folks have used the park for their locations," Stack said.
He added that the labor shortage has not affected his operation much, saying that his last advertisement for an open position drew 700 applications.
"I don't know what that says about the labor situation, but we've got people who are wanting to work for us," Stack said.
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