On Thursday, in its first meeting since Regal-Beloit officials announced the company is closing down the local plant, the West Plains Economic Development Corporation (EDC) explored ways to attract new businesses and to maintain quality workers in the area.
Economic Development Director David Bossemeyer reported he recently attended two trade shows, the National Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Las Vegas and the FABTECH Expo in Chicago, where he visited with a number of companies.
“There were some promising prospects,” he said, noting most businesses seem to be in a wait-and-see mode before expanding their operations anywhere.
“For steel and large machine manufactures and buyers, steel tariffs are a big issue because they’re uncertain what the future prices are going to be in the next few years and don’t want to make any long term contracts,” Bossemeyer explained.
The tariffs he refers to were implemented by President Donald Trump in March 2018, when a 25% tariff was levied on all foreign steel imports except for those from South Korea, Argentina, Australia and Brazil.
In addition Bossemeyer said there is a sense of economic uncertainty among many company officials he talked with.
“A lot of them are fat with cash,” he said. “But they aren’t sure whether they want to use the money to reinvest it or pay taxes with it.”
Bossemeyer said he also helped facilitate a call between Regal-Beloit corporate representatives and another company interested in purchasing Regal’s West Plains building and the equipment inside, to maintain a manufacturing presence.
Regal declined the offer. Company officials said they were too far into moving their West Plains operation to other facilities, having already moved equipment out of the building, Bossemeyer reported.
With the loss of 204 manufacturing jobs, Bossemeyer said there are enough open job openings in the area to absorb those lost with Regal’s departure, though those jobs will likely not be at the same wage rate.
However, he said, employees who are laid off can be eligible for money to pay for advanced workforce training through such programs as the Fast Track Workforce Incentive recently implemented by the state. Fast Track is a financial aid program for adults continuing education to further their careers.
Overall, Bossemeyer said he is still optimistic about the future of attracting new manufacturers to the area.
According to the Executive Board President Cary Stewart, there have been talks with Missouri Partnership, a statewide economic development organization, about creating an exit video to share with potential companies. The video would highlight the pros of the area and make clear that the closing of Regal’s West Plains facility was an entirely corporate decision.
“There are a lot of things good about this area and sometimes I think we see the forest for the trees,” Bossemeyer said, citing the city’s low cost of living, inexpensive labor, relatively cheap utilities and affordable property.
The next meeting of West Plains Economic Development Corporation’s executive board will be 4 p.m. Dec. 11 in the Community Room at the West Plains Library. The public is welcome.