City administrator of the City of Perryville

City administrator of the City of Perryville

Perryville, Mo., city administrator says cities need to actively attract business

Hardworking people, lower business costs attract businesses to Perryville.

Hope and District Chamber of Commerce invited the city administrator of Perryville, Mo., Brent Buerck as the keynote speaker of the March 1 How Do We Grow Hope event.

Perryville sits about 130 kilometres from a large city, St. Louis, Mo., and has statistics such as a median income of $43,000, an unemployment rate of 2.8 per cent and a three-bedroom house costs about $110,000. The town has about 8,400 residents.

Buerck’s speech centred around how the Perryville Development Corporation (PDC), an economic development agency, made headway in the past 50 years to attract businesses and develop local entrepreneurship.

“It is a slow process and some of it is finding in a needle in a haystack,” said Buerck. “They kept at it and you’ll get many doors shut on you but you’ll get one that will open and that’s the one you’ll have to go for.

“They do their homework. They don’t invest in dreams.”

As a result, car parts manufacturer TG Missouri and food producer Gilster-Mary Lee have become Perryville’s biggest employers, hiring about 1,600 employees.

The process of attracting TG Missouri to Perryville started when the mayor and economic developer went to Japan to try to get their business. In turn, TG Missouri visited them, and negotiations went down.

Almost like a parallelism, a table of Chinese green technology investors sat with Fraser Valley Regional District Area B director Dennis Adamson. Adamson said they will soon return to demonstrate their products, which could potentially be installed in Area B or the District of Hope.

Buerck said Perryville had good transportation links, a workforce with good work ethic and being in the middle of the United States allowed them to access the American South and Detroit conveniently. In addition, St. Louis had three automobile manufacturers situated there.

On the other hand, the PDC sometimes had to take up some risks. To get Gilster-Mary Lee from its original location in Illinois, about 20 kilometres from Perryville, the PDC had to put up some start-up money. That paid off as Gilster-Mary Lee has since boomed.

For Gilster-Mary Lee, Perryville’s advantage lies in geography — closer to their headquarters and road transportation links.

Asked why companies prefer setting up in a town, rather than the outskirts of a metropolitan area, Buerck said it lied in costs such as land, wages and cost of living. Buerck also emphasized Perryville’s work ethic.

“It comes from family, it comes from values, it comes from parents that work hard, from kids that work hard and we seem to be able to pass that on from generation to generation,” said Buerck. “Certainly, farm kids … if you’re a farmer, you’re working long days and you’re used to it.”

Buerck’s speech showed that Perryville has faced challenging times as a result of recessions and technological change. Some of their investments also failed to produce results.

It has also faced poor municipal leadership. Buerck said a former mayor ruined relationships with others.

“It set us back, perhaps, 10 or 12 years,” said Buerck.

Buerck said recovering from ruined relationships came with time and chasing leads.

Asked how a small town rebounds from an economic downturn, Buerck said, “Part of me hopes I never have to find out.”

Perhaps that is because Gilster-Mary Lee and TG Missouri still hire about a third of the town and have expanded through the decades.

Or perhaps that could be because the two big industries are value-adding manufacturers that depend little on natural resources.

“Neither of the industries that we have draw a lot on our natural resources. Gilster brings in their sugar, they bring in their flour,” said Buerck. “TG is the same way … plastic doesn’t grow on trees, so they’re having to bring that in as raw goods to then convert it into product.”

A community of Lutherans, Catholics and other denominations, faith also comes into the picture.

“I think its the foundation of who we are,” said Buerck. “It’s what we believe. I think it’s reflected on how we treat each other, how we respect each other. I think it’s reflected that we work hard. We don’t expect — we give and then you get.

“The way it works is if you give, the Lord blesses you back, and I think we might understand that very well.”