Leaders have been working to keep their community thriving, business owner Dr. Sean Siebert says. He sits on the board for the Crawford County Foundation.
“The biggest thing that we’ve been working to do is change the mindset,” Siebert says. “It’s getting people to think more optimistically about the future of their community.”
Cuba, population 3,356, is the biggest town in Crawford County. Siebert says Cuba has a diverse manufacturing base, an aerospace company, wood-based products companies due to the abundant surrounding timber and a tourism industry centered around Route 66 and the town’s Route 66 murals.
Agriculture also plays a big role, from the wood products companies to the livestock sale barn in town. With its rolling, rocky southern Missouri terrain, the cattle industry is key in Cuba.
“Cuba has a sale barn, and it does very, very well,” Siebert says. “This area is more known for cattle than it is for crops.”
Siebert says the first priority for rural communities is focusing on the health of existing businesses and how they can grow.
“We focus on good communication between the city and the economic development group and the businesses,” he says. “How can we help you add 10 jobs? Are you healthy or not healthy? What are your barriers to growth?”
Beyond that, Siebert says rural communities can encourage entrepreneurship and then work to attract new businesses.
“It’s an examination of every aspect of your community,” he says.
A national medical billing company headquartered in Chesterfield recently decided to open a branch in Cuba and has been gradually building up jobs in the community. The president of the company’s uncle is a local dentist and helped get Cuba on the radar for the company.
Getting businesses to thrive in rural areas can be difficult.
“We’re not without challenges,” Siebert says.
Among those is the workforce — having enough workers with the right skills to meet the needs.
“Rural America is known for the brain drain, where the best and brightest are leaving and they’re not coming back,” he says.
The community has been working to fight against that. Juniors and seniors in high school can work for employers for credit, working toward job opportunities after high school or college. The community also held a summit for area high school students that was a TED talk merged with a career fair. Siebert says they work to get local CEOs and company presidents as speakers.
Siebert also works on a rehabilitation program with people in a local prison. The goal of his economic development efforts is a better life for those in the community.
“Every day is chances for new opportunities,” he says. “We fight poverty. We fight drug addiction.”
Amy Susan, communications director for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, says the state of Missouri and Gov. Eric Greitens have been working to bring broadband Internet to rural areas to support businesses and agriculture.
“That’s something we’ve been working on,” she says, “to make sure they have the tools to succeed, and build that infrastructure they need to compete.”
Source: Missouri Farmer Today