Despite an economy that is still struggling, Warren County “fared fairly well” in 2012.
That is according to Boonslick Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) Executive Director Steve Etcher.
Etcher provided a brief summary on the state of the county to a large gathering at the organization’s annual meeting on Dec. 6.
He updated civic leaders on key areas of the county’s demographics, such as population trends, county wages, poverty and the state of area businesses.
Etcher said according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has grown from a population of 24,525 in 2000 to 35,513 in 2010.
“We’re still a great place to live, a great place to establish a business,” he told Boonslick members and constituents. “ We are seeing some marginal growth, nothing like we saw from 2000-08, but our region is continuing to grow.”
Etcher said Warren County is maintaining the population growth it achieved in the last decade and thinks the county has room for more growth.
As far as where people are living in the county, there has been a trend of more people moving into more populated areas, Etcher said.
“We’re seeing rural communities become depopulated and urban become populated,” he said “That’s going to change how those small communities are going to sustain themselves — how they maintain infrastructure to meet current regulations.”
The county’s average wage is still respectable, Etcher said, but it did decline after 2008. However, the per capita income is continuing to increase.
According to the last census, the average wage per household was just short of $15 per hour in 2012, with an average annual salary of $32,689. That is just slightly above the $32,497 annual average income from 2009.
Despite the seemingly small jump in average income, Etcher said Warren County is the second-highest growing county in the state in per capita income.
“I think this is important because this is what’s going to fuel our economy and our recovery,” he said.
Even with population and wage inclines, however, poverty levels continue to increase, Etcher told the group.
“This is not a good thing,” he said. “These are individuals who are not earning enough to sustain their households.”
Approximately 12.3 percent of Warren County families are living in poverty this year, which is up considerably from the 8.6 percent recorded in 2009.
Etcher said the BRPC needs to continue to develop policies and programs for these individuals to help get these families above the poverty level.
Unemployment levels look pretty close to where they were in 2008, but Etcher said those numbers can be deceiving.
“If that’s all your looking at, that looks reasonably encouraging,” he said, “But unfortunately it’s how they look at it.
“There are people who were receiving unemployment who are no longer getting it who aren‘t included (in these numbers),” he said. “We have not put our economy back where it needs to be in our local region. Unemployment remains above the state average, with an 8 percent unemployment rate as compared to Missouri’s rate of about 7.5 percent.
“That’s something we take very seriously and are looking to abate.”
Local Economy, Housing And Business Trends
Etcher said the answer to improving the local economy is looking at growing local jobs.
“This is our harvest field,” he said. “We’ve got 60 percent of our work force who leave the county to work. We’re looking at promoting entrepreneurship and small business development.
Etcher said taxable sales are rebounding, despite the height of unemployment and poverty. However, in the real estate market, housing foreclosures still continue to be an issue.
“In this current month, it seems it has backed off, but our area is still pretty hot when it comes to rating foreclosures,” he said. “It’s still something to work on to keep people in their homes and realize the dream of home ownership.”
Boonslick has bought 19 foreclosed homes through its Neighborhood Stabilization program and rehabbed and sold 10 of them this past year. The program has also rented five homes, provided owner financing for three and has eight more for sale.
The county has seen some business start-ups, Etcher said, with home-based services such as catering, lawn care or housekeeping falling in the top 10 list.
“Private household employers make up 29 percent of all formations,” he said.
Etcher said there have been some business expansions, but the county has also seen its fair share of contractions and relocations.
The Economic Development Association has provided more than 20 loans to help with business expansions and still has more than $53,000 still available to lend.
Doing Its Part
Boonslick has a variety of other programs to help make difference in the region with its programs.
Some of them include the Missouri Career Center, the Homeland Security Program, a solid waste management program that includes a recycling center and the Boonslick Transportation Advisory Committee, which now has 29 members comprising nine disciplines.
The Missouri Career Center served an average of 1,500 customers throughout 2012 with its programs such as Workforce Development, Wheels to Work and Missouri Workforce Ready.
Etcher said the organization’s solid waste management program has also been successful this year, recycling 203 total tons of material such as cardboard, paper, metals, appliances and pesticides.
The Homeland Security program was also able to provide equipment to local law enforcement agencies and other first responders after receiving nearly $80,000 in funding from state and federal agencies.
The Boonslick transportation committee is looking into public transportation in the tri-county area, as well as working with MoDOT to improve the quality of the county’s roads and bridges, Etcher said.
This year Boonslick received $1 million from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to provide loans to homeowners with failing or failed septic systems and is working on a program to map on-site wastewater facilities throughout the region.