In spite of the cornavirus pandemic, this area experienced continued growth in business and industry.
John Mehner, president and CEO of Cape Girardeau Area MAGNET, an organization whose purpose is to attract business and industry to the area, described the effect of the pandemic on area businesses and spoke of recent accomplishments to the Jackson Board of Aldermen during a study session Dec. 7.
“I want to spend a little time giving you some numbers related to what we’ve been going through the last nine months,” Mehner said. “Then I want to finish with some positive news on economic development.”
Mehner said the Cape and Jackson Area Chambers of Commerce distributed more than 21,000 masks to local businesses in the area free of charge. The purpose was twofold: protect people and to keep businesses open.
“We had 823 businesses in our district who received PPP loans of greater than $150,000,” he added.
“Needless to say, both we and Brian’s crew at the Jackson Chamber really had pushed a ‘shop and do business locally’ message,” Mehner said. People have responded and area sales tax revenue is up this year. “Having said that, it does not mean that we haven’t lost businesses in the area, because we have. That’s never fun, and that’s never good. Hopefully, some of those will be able to come back at some point.”
Mehner said, “Our unemployment for Cape Girardeau County is back down to about 3.3 percent and Scott County is about 3.6 percent. But what I want to caution you about is, don’t think that means we are employing the same number of people that we did pre-pandemic, because we’re not.”
The problem is that a percentage of workers have dropped out of the labor force and are no longer looking for work. Mehner was not sure of the number, but said he heard it could be as high as seven to 10 percent. The total number of people who make up the labor force is “substantially less” than it was pre-pandemic, he added.
Mehner said there were lots of opinions as to why the labor force has shrunk. One reason is, with at-home learning in the schools, some parents have stayed home with their children.
During 2020 so far, MAGNET has announced seven major projects representing more than 300 jobs and $67 million in investment. That includes K-Coe Isom in Jackson, the VA Health Services facility in Cape, and Patriot Medical Devices in Cape).
MAGNET’s annual goal is to bring 300 jobs, $50 million new investment, and $12 million new payroll to the area.
“In the midst of all that’s going on, we exceeded those goals,” Mehner said.
More may be coming. MAGNET is currently working on more than 10 projects representing more than 400 jobs and $80 million in investment, including a prospect for the spec building in Jackson and the former Sears Grand building in Cape.
Mehner could not yet reveal who was interested in the Jackson spec building, but he hopes to make an announcement prior to the end of 2020. “While I can’t say yet who, you will be thrilled with the occupant,” he said.