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Task force considers second industrial park

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

A task force made up of Springfield City Council members and a group of citizens is studying whether the city needs a second industrial park development that would be similar to the Partnership Industrial Center.

The task force has held one organizational meeting and was to have heard public comments at a forum Feb. 4 regarding a second park. Most members of the group said they will refrain from making a decision about whether a second park is needed until they study the results of their information gathering.

"At this point, we've just asked for additional information. We really have not made a decision yet," said Tom Singleton, task force member and owner of Precision Stainless.

A significant factor in the task force's decision on whether a second park is recommended is the success of the first park, Singleton said. The task force has requested more information on that partnership development.

A second park would be built by the same four partners: the city, City Utilities, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield Business & Development Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the chamber.

The difference this time would be that the SBDC would purchase the land, rather than City Utilities, which purchased the land at $8,000 per acre for the first park, said Karl Plumpe, senior manager for economic development at CU.

Eight to 10 banks, all members of the SBDC, have said they would participate in a loan to the business and development corporation for the purchase of the approximately 250 acres of land for the park.

The task force has a list of eight questions it is to answer before reporting to the mayor and City Council March 15. The questions pertain to where the city's growth should be, how its economy should develop and whether the park should be located within the Springfield R-XII School District.

Mayor Pro Tem Teri Hacker, who serves on the task force, said the council would probably take up the matter after the task force makes its recommendation.

Among the information the task force has requested of the first park's marketing and development team is whether the city has recovered the cost of its investment in the park.

"There are really two methods of recovery. We can recover those direct costs, and to date those reimbursements exceed $4 million, and then there's the multiplier effect of other jobs in the community," Plumpe said.

On the utility side alone, $2 million in additional revenue has been generated by the park, Plumpe said.

"That's a very good plus for the utility. Of course, we don't know what the future holds, with deregulation of the industry coming into play, but we feel we'll still be at an advantage because we'll be the low-cost provider," Plumpe said.

One of the questions the task force is to consider is whether the utility can count on increasing its load factor once a second park is built, as pending deregulation will affect the amount of utility business CU has.

A second industrial park, like the first one, would contain only manufacturing, no warehouse-type uses, and it is the partners' hope that it would bring more higher wage jobs into Springfield, those that pay well above minimum wage. The average wage paid per hour within the Partnership Industrial Center now is $12.40 per hour, Plumpe said.

Nikki Sells, a task force member and owner of Express Personnel, said most people seeking jobs want to be paid about $7 per hour now. She also said that the labor market has changed since the first park was built, and there are fewer people available to fill jobs now.

Singleton, who expressed similar thoughts at the council meeting where a resolution to build a new park was read and tabled, said he is having great difficulty filling skilled labor for positions in his manufacturing plant.

"What we're seeing now is that there are all kinds of people out there with all kinds of skills. We are finding that the welders and the other types of skilled laborers aren't as available as they were before. Frankly, there's not the training available. The training has to be there. Welders aren't born, and they don't graduate from high school," Sells said.

Kirk Heyle, a commercial and industrial Realtor with Heyle Realtors, said that availability of industrial land is important for industry attraction. Though Heyle's business has mostly sold existing property used for manufacturing, he has also scouted property with some prospective industrial developers.

"To those industrial users, it's very important that they have a 30- or 40-acre parcel that has roadwork or rail, and the water and sewer access needed. Often they'll find an appropriate parcel, but they will have to do quite a bit of work and invest quite a bit in that parcel to get it ready for their use," Heyle said.

The task force will also use information compiled in a report from Economic Development Resources, a St. Louis firm that conducted a feasibility study on the development of a second industrial park about a year ago.

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