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Who says 'Nothing's going on in Marshall'?

Posted Friday, October 1, 2010, at 4:30 PM

It was only a few weeks after I moved to Marshall 4-1/2 years ago that I met then-Mayor Connie Latimer and Marshall Democrat-News publisher Shelly Arth at a couples golf outing.

Apart from the enjoyment of playing golf on a lovely day in mid-May, I enjoyed the company of both women and their partners, never dreaming our paths would soon cross professionally.

By the following September, I was working at the newspaper as a clerk; it wasn't long before I was reporting full-time, occasionally interviewing Latimer on a variety of subjects. We have managed to play golf again, but just a few times, so it wasn't until last week, at the end of my tenure as a staff writer for the newspaper, that we were able to sit down for a lengthy conversation.

Now Marshall's city manager, Latimer wanted to talk about the past and the future of Marshall, from her point of view, following three days at the Governor's Conference on Economic Development, held mid-September in Kansas City.

Latimer said she came away from the conference with the sure knowledge that despite economic hard times everywhere, Marshall is doing better than a lot of other cities.

"I'd never been to the conference, but I went this year to get a feel for other places and what their barriers are to economic development. Other areas have been hit harder than we have," she said.

Statistics from the Missouri Department of Economic Development support that opinion.

As of August 2010, Marshall's unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, down slightly from 8.9 percent last year at this time. The national rate stands at 9.9 percent. For that same period, unemployment in Warrensburg is 9.3 percent; in Mexico, 9.1 percent; and in Moberly, 10.1 percent. In Lafayette County the rate is at 9.9 percent.

Latimer pointed to the airport as one distinguishing factor in Marshall's favor.

"We are better off economically than cities without an airport. We got $7.2 million in work and funding on that project, and only spent $370,000. But projects like that one don't jump up and wave a flag every day, so they can be seen. Now that the airport can provide fuel 24/7, we get business from cross-country nighttime flyers, in addition to the other flyers," she said.

Latimer said she also came away from the conference with the knowledge that virtually every city official faces the same obstacles to progress and the same misconceptions about what (whether) progress is taking place in their cities and towns.

"I've heard people complain that there is 'nothing going on in Marshall,'" she said. "But people forget a project or an improvement once it's finished. They forget we haven't always had a community center, a modern airport, a cancer center. And, to be honest, I forget it sometimes, too. Then, when I'm showing someone around town, seeing the progress reminds me."

Latimer said that local projects sometimes don't benefit any one person directly, so they're overlooked. "If you don't need the cancer center today, you don't see it. If you don't attend events at the Martin Community Center, you don't see it," she said.

"People need to see brick and mortar or they think nothing's happening," she continued. But, she said, the trip to the governor's conference made her realize that "everybody (in government) has those same problems. They're not unique to Marshall."

Latimer pointed to ConAgra's recent expansion as another project that might have been overlooked by some.

"Part of our participation in that agreement was that ConAgra would add and maintain 150 new jobs," she said. The expansion actually resulted in 185 new positions.

Latimer acknowledged that part of that project is incomplete. "The open area along Arrow Street still needs some trees," she said. "We're working with them on that. The company will buy the trees, the city will plant them and take care of watering them."

Attending the conference with Latimer was MSDC head Roy Hunter, who has also been the target of sharp criticism with regard to the role the organization he heads has played in local economic development.

"The 'big buzz' at the conference was a deal made by a city about Marshall's size," Latimer said. That city shouldered $15 million in revenue bonds, built a building and allowed a company to move in their equipment and start production. If the planned project isn't successful, Latimer pointed out, the company moves on, and the city is left with $15 million in revenue bonds and an empty building that, in these difficult times, might remain empty for a long time.

"That's a pretty big risk," Latimer said. "We can't compete with an offer like that. And if we did take on a project like that, it would mean other projects we might want to do couldn't be done."

Latimer said that in the past, small cities like Marshall would be matched with projects at the state level.

"Prospective developers would be told that a particular project might work well in Marshall and two or three other cities. It doesn't work that way anymore. Now cities are organized by district and compete with a lot more cities for even fewer projects," she said.

Of particular concern to Latimer is a charge floating around the internet and elsewhere that the city is "anti-business." The comments arose in part from a planning and zoning issue surrounding a pallet business owned by Scott Miller.

Briefly, Miller's business is located in an area zoned for agricultural use. Miller sought rezoning of a one-acre plot to light industrial use so semi-trailer trucks can be parked on the property. The city's planning and zoning commission denied the request.

"The P & Z Commission cannot give a special use permit where the land is already zoned as agricultural. The city council, however, can do so, and it's everybody's intention to develop a permit that (Miller) can use for the life of his business," Latimer said.

"It has never been anyone's intention to run anyone out of business," she emphasized.

Latimer said she and Miller have been in close contact on this issue, and said she is confident he understands the city's position.

"Scott commented to me recently, 'If you let everyone do what they want, wouldn't we have a mess?'" she said.

Latimer reiterated that zoning regulations limits aren't meant to limit economic development, but are put in place for everyone's protection.

"We work hard so the zoning decisions we make don't negatively impact the city," she said.

The last item we covered in our long conversation concerned the topic of "they" -- those perhaps imaginary folks who, it's often said, control economic development in Marshall and Saline County.

The subject of "they," as in "'They' don't want this town to have a (insert name of business) here," or "'They' control things in Marshall,' has frequently been the topic of conversation on the newspaper's Speak Out blog.

"At one time, maybe there were individuals who had more "say" about things in Marshall than others," she said. "But those people are gone now. If they worked here at the city, they are gone."

"Thing are going on in Marshall all the time," she said. "Just because we're not talking about it right now -- today -- doesn't mean that nothing is happening."

As a citizen of Marshall, I'm inclined to agree with Latimer. Four years at the newspaper have only reinforced my belief that there's always more going on in any given place than meets the eye.

I've been impressed with the progress made in the short time I've lived here. We have an excellent hospital that was expanded recently and a new cancer center treatment center attached to it. That's on top of a move by the health department from a cramped space in an aging building to a brand-new center and the construction of a modern ambulance facility.

The courthouse, in dire need of restoration when I arrived, is beautiful again. In addition to renovations at the airport, there's a lovely community center and a museum nearby.

If you are one of those who believe "nothing's going on in Marshall," I urge you to see our city through this newcomer's eyes. You might like what you see.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Dear Ms. Fairchild,

I am saddened that you will no longer be a staff writer for the paper. I don't know why, and consider it intrusive to ask why. It is none of my business. I will just say that you have the right stuff, and I along with many others will miss your fine work. I am hopeful that at the least you will continue your blog.

In regard to the content of this commentary I think it is dead on.

I marvel that Marshall, not a suburb of a major city, rather a town isolated in the middle of the state has so much to offer. What other city of its size has anything like it? Certainly no town in Oklahoma that is not riding the coat tails of a metropolitan area is even close. I expect it is the same in Missouri.

You have two libraries, multiple musical entities, A thriving four year college, a "Y", and a beautiful park. That park in addition to its natural beauty, harbors a nice golf course, An aquatic center, skate park, and a disc golf course, which by all reports is a great one with still another to come. You have a viable service for battered women, rare in communities the size of Marshall. All that in addition to the things mentioned in your commentary, and more.

Oh well, even Jesus wasn't appreciated in his own hometown. I reckon that amenities don't stand a chance, if Jesus couldn't get respect.

The folks that haven't spent time in the drab towns of ten to fifteen thousand people in Oklahoma, and many with which I am acquainted in Missouri, do not appreciate how much better is Marshall. They should pause to make the comparison. And please, not get stuck on the restaurant issue.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Sun, Oct 3, 2010, at 2:24 AM

OKR, thank you very much for your kind comments, which I note were made in VERY early morning!

My reasons for leaving the paper are not very complicated. I will celebrate my 65th birthday in the spring and didn't want to spend another winter getting out in the nasty weather unless I felt like it. More than that, I want to be able to visit my grandchildren much more often than I do now.

Eric and Shelly have kindly asked me to continue my column, and I'm very happy to do so. I'll also continue working with 'she' magazine.

Thank you, too, for mentioning Valley and the Y and other things I neglected to mention. I've lived in and visited more than a few small towns in my peripatetic lifetime, and I continue to be impressed with what Marshall has going for it. It's not without its flaws, but I've never visited a town named "Perfect." And as you pointed out, there are always some who are never happy - I'm sure they would criticize heaven if they ever got there.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Sun, Oct 3, 2010, at 8:24 AM

I can tell you one thing that is not going on in Marshall. Population growth.

40+ years. Same thing.

Growth is what funds things like new schools. Without a change in the student head count, or in tax revenues, how are increased expendatures justified.

Growth also attracts new business. Successful retail chains are generally not attracted to towns whose populations are stagnant or declining. Same for other types of business.

Growth leads to job creation and opportunities. Without growth, someone with a job has to die, or retire, to create an job opening for a younger person. No job creation forces young people to migrate elsewhere.

One can argue that job creation feeds growth, or conversely, growth creates jobs. Regardless, the two are closely related and it appears we have neither.

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Mon, Oct 4, 2010, at 9:19 AM

Smart Dog: You're not entirely wrong, but you'll get no Kewpie Doll for your statistics. Marshall's population in 1960 was 9572; in 1970, 12051; in 1980, 12781; in 1990, 12711; in 2000, 12,433; in 2005, 12403. From the high point in 1980 to five years ago, it's a loss of 3 percent. Looking at it that way, it doesn't seem quite so serious.

There's been a decline, yes, but it's a slower decline than your suggestion of 40 plus years of stagnation. Maybe it's just that one person's definition of "decline" is another person's definition of "stability." http://mcdc.missouri.edu/trends/tables/c...

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Mon, Oct 4, 2010, at 11:39 AM

Never used the word decline Kathy.

The US population grew 50.1% from 1970 to 2010. Marshall, 3%. That is an average of 1.25% per year over the last 40 years, Marshall .08% in the same period.

The US population outpaced Marshall by a factor of 15. Not just twice or three times as fast, 15 times as fast.

So, yes this is serious, and by your definition "stability" equals no growth, no job creation, no opportunity.

I can't believe that I have to explain this in order for my post to be understood.

As an answer to why folks in the community may think nothing is going on consider the following scenario.

A Marshallite, who sees all the new schools, new public buildings, new factories, new businesses, etc. in another town thinks "Gee this town must really have it going on." They ask "Why can't we do these things in Marshall?"

The answer "No Growth."

Is that better?

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Mon, Oct 4, 2010, at 2:57 PM

I understood you just fine, Smart Dog, we just don't agree. If people in this town want to know why they don't have new schools, to pick an excellent example, they have only to look at themselves and the stunningly low numbers they posted voting on the school construction issue. No growth (or stability) is not responsible for that.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Mon, Oct 4, 2010, at 3:16 PM

Not surprisingly, population growth is highest in the West and the Sunbelt. From 1990 to 2000, growth was highest in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. Marshall's not the only town in the U.S., especially in the Midwest, where there are fewer people than there used to be.

We've had new public buildings here, by the way, Smart Dog. Hospital, cancer center, community center, ambulance building...courthouse renovation...or did you forget those? Or maybe you don't live here?

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Mon, Oct 4, 2010, at 5:54 PM

SmartDog - I live in a town very similar to Marshall, where the population has remained more or less stable, between 9,000 & 10,000 people, for the last 50ish years. In fact, Marshall has grown much more than Platteville has. We also have a university (albeit a larger one than MVC). The very fact that this small town has NOT grown and is not likely to grow much in size is exactly why I love it so much.

Despite this "stagnation" or "stability" of growth, we have passed referendums, built new schools and new additions to schools, a new hospital, a new police station, and there have been new restaurants, new businesses, and new jobs created, with many more projects on the horizon.

I don't think population stability/stagnation is the problem in Marshall.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Tue, Oct 5, 2010, at 8:46 AM

To me personally "town growth" is more than tax dollar funded buildings and updates. We need more but more importantly we have to want it, and the majority of people in this town don't want it.

Old money old town, this town always has been and always will be a name game. From the homecoming queen to youth sports it is the same as it was when I was growing up.

Sure I can look around and see the tax dollar improvements in this town...I can even see the generous donations that have brought change to this town.

The change I wanna see is the city and city officials enforce code violations and clean this town up. That's change to me.

How many potential employers have been lost by this town? Granted some may just be rumor but wasn't Bass Pro looking at putting a warehouse here? The b.s. politics in this town will always keep growth from happening here, without change growth can't and won't happen. That is of course once you look past the razzle dazzle of the tax funded changes and generous donations.

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Tue, Oct 5, 2010, at 8:48 AM

Scarpetta: I've "heard on the street" that there are other companies that wanted to come here and didn't - but I've never heard anyone say, with certainty, if any particular company actually did want to come here, and if they didn't, why not. I think a lot of that information is rumor and supposition. If anyone has information that proves me wrong on that, let me know. But if anyone wants to provide that information, it has to include names and dates.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Tue, Oct 5, 2010, at 11:06 AM

"They forget we haven't always had a community center, a modern airport, a cancer center." says the Mayor...err...I mean the City Administrator. The cancer center may have brought a few jobs to town, but how many jobs were created by the community center and the airport? (Was the work done to improve the airport and to build the community building even done by local contractors?) This town needs good-paying, quality jobs! Tax revenues plus employed people who have incomes to spend in the community will likely bring in stores and restaurants to town and may even give the voters of Marshall the willingness to vote for a new school.

-- Posted by Typesetter on Tue, Oct 5, 2010, at 12:15 PM

Typesetter: Can't argue with your position that we need more jobs. What do you suggest we do to get them here?

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Tue, Oct 5, 2010, at 12:52 PM

Typesetter - Here's some info for you on jobs and the airport:

The Martin Community Center has 1 fulltime and 1 parttime employee plus cleanup crews who work after events and sometimes during them. The rest of the work is done by volunteers. As the usage increases, so will the need for more employees.

Who did the work?

Lots of the work on the Center was done locally. The structure was built by Coreslab, and other work was done by local contractors, plumbers, electricians and so forth.

As for the airport: The work at the airport was done through the MoDOT bid process and the low bid got the job. The cement was purchased locally, but due to the bidding that is required by MODOT, an out-of-town contractor did the bulk of the work, even though several local contractors did bid. The city had no control over that; the city is required to bid contract jobs.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Tue, Oct 5, 2010, at 6:09 PM

A wise man told me once upon a time that big business picks the sites based on factors that fill their needs. Begging the business to locate in your town is not what gets them. It is the location, work force, available ground, etc. etc. etc. The big boys pick you, not the other way around.

The big boys need to see the community as a can-do place; has-done place; will-do place. We have a lot of the amenities. About the only thing lacking is new schools.

This is not a case of build it and they will come. It is a case of building the right enviornment and they will be more likely to come.

-- Posted by red dog on Wed, Oct 6, 2010, at 7:37 AM

red dog, you're right on the money with your comments. It's important to businesses moving in that their current employees, who might be relocating here, will come willingly. Decent schools for their children, among other things, play a big part in that willingness.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Wed, Oct 6, 2010, at 10:32 AM

When people talk about good paying jobs coming to Marshall they have to realize that in this economic climate the only good paying jobs with good benefits that still come to any municipality in middle America require an available work force that has cutting edge technological training, or other enhanced skills.

There are no good paying jobs with good benefits left for Americans without extraordinary skills. Those disappeared with the death of the unions, outsourcing, and insourcing of immigrants willing to work tough jobs for wages only marginally better than those paid in third world locations.

So evaluate your available local work force. What is it that they can do that distinguishs them from other workers overseas, or imported? What are their exclusive skills if any that would cause corporations to pay the kind of wages, and benefits necessary to provide a living such as was experienced in the golden age of America?

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Wed, Oct 6, 2010, at 8:45 PM

I just re-read the growth percentages posted by Smart Dog. He did a lot of digging to offer all that. Good job.

Had Marshall kept pace, the population would now be somewhere around eighteen or nineteen thousand. I wonder what percentage other Missouri towns and cities have. Have any of them grown?

I am to lazy to dig it all up.

-- Posted by red dog on Wed, Oct 6, 2010, at 9:30 PM

OK Reader - and of course, that local workforce could be better served & better trained by new & improved schools, thereby drawing in larger companies!

I don't live in Marshall - does MVC work with the local schools at all on programs? If a school referendum can't get passed, maybe the school should use the resource of having a college in town to help improve some of their offerings, even if they can't improve the buildings. We have a wonderful symbiotic relationship between "town" & "gown" in my town...and we had some great opportunities in middle & high school because of it!

-- Posted by koeller77 on Thu, Oct 7, 2010, at 7:58 AM

For the dogs both Smart and red, here's lots of info on population trends in the Midwest, including Missouri and surrounding states:


To focus on population along is a mistake, IMHO. The point I'm trying to make is that it's foolish to assume "nothing" is going on, when, in fact, there IS movement. It's not at all helpful to, in effect, throw up our hands and declare the fight over without joining the battle and trying to help in whatever ways are possible. If there is anything "wrong" with this town, it's the collective sense of futility with which many of its citizens appear to be afflicted.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Thu, Oct 7, 2010, at 8:08 AM

Have to take issue with the whole concept that building modern and expensive school BUILDINGs will somehow cause growth and interest companies to start up in Marshall or any other town or expand into Marshall. I am sure that the facilities make some sort of impression but were I to have a business that was going to cost me millions to relocate or expand somewhere, I in regards to community issues, I would consider the QUALITY of the education and the community satisfaction with the school system both in the administration (running of) the school system and how well the students do overall compared to other towns I was considering. I guess the facilities are always going to be something that a group of people will always argue about but the quality of the education of the STUDENTS and the capabilities of the teachers and the adaptability of the adminstration to deal with new social and techological changes would be much more important.

Times are tough though and Marshall does have several good things going. However, the good ole boy and girl network in the community, city management and judicial system is something that can drive off business interest as well.

-- Posted by mrxray on Sun, Oct 10, 2010, at 10:02 PM

mrxray: I don't think anyone is making a case that building new school buildings will magically lead to new businesses - certainly I'm not. But there is not a moment's doubt in my mind that it's part of the total picture.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Mon, Oct 11, 2010, at 6:25 AM

As soon as someone guarantees me that my property taxes will not increase as a result, I will support new school buildings.

Growth in the tax base and increased enrollment funded the new high school in Sedalia. In Kirksville I would guess we could say the same.

Our schools are not that bad. If we would have spent a little effort maintaining what we have, the buildings would be in better shape. There is no excuse for leaving leaky roofs or leaky foundations unrepaired for years. Bad management.

I agree with mrxray (chagrined again) that the quality of education comes from the teachers, administration, and culture of the school system, not the buildings.

And as a former management level employee of one of those big multinational corporations who build new factories occasionally, I can say with some confidence that location, available resources, and the quality of the skilled labor workforce are what determines where a facility is built.

Unskilled labor is available everywhere, and companies need that, but it is the availability of skilled folks, such as certified welders, degreed electrical and mechanical technicians, experienced production supervisors, engineers, degreed accountants and the like that catch the eye of those looking. Also, available electrical, natural gas, and water supplies, and the proximity to raw materials, supplies and supplier facilities, and transportation help tip the scales.

We are way too hung up on things the uninformed think will attract industry. A decent airport is a good idea and a hospital kind of goes without saying as a necessity.

Parks, golf courses, YMCA's, remodeled courthouses, Cancer Centers, airplane museums, and community centers are very, very low on the priority list. I like having all these things in Marshall and think they are all good ideas, but don't count on any of them to attract a corporation looking for a place to park a multi-million dollar investment.

What successsful companies want to know is how much money can we make using the available resources in Marshall, MO. What they really want to see in a community is an intelligent workforce with a great work ethic, low utility costs, and moderate labor costs. I am not so sure that one of those things is readily available here.

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Mon, Oct 11, 2010, at 9:35 AM

You are right Smart Dog. Your comments remind me when the Wilson operation moved to town and built the big new plant. The company went through the local workers pretty quick. It was hard, very hard work.

I am not saying Marshall people couldn't stand the work because a lot of them stayed the course. More than a few didn't have what it took and quit. Their places were filled with people that had to drive a long way to get to work plus the company started importing labor.

The company brought skilled labor with them. That is often the case. If I recall correctly, the company started going downhill when the union labor decided to strike. The union got busted, but the company went Dixie. I may not have that part exactly straight but it is what I remember.

-- Posted by red dog on Mon, Oct 11, 2010, at 12:24 PM

Smart Dog: Absolutely no one can guarantee you that your taxes will not go up, whatever the reason. And to say that "Our schools are not that bad," is, just my opinion, not saying much for our schools. I'm reminded of the young boy, desperate to say something nice, who told his dance partner, "Hey, you don't sweat as much as you used to."

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Mon, Oct 11, 2010, at 2:00 PM

OUr town may not have grown much over the last 40 years, but the quality of life continues to improve. Thank you mrxray for noting that a BUILDING does not make a better school. MVC continues to grow and prosper. Look at the age of some of those buildings. For that matter, look at the age of the buildings used for our state and national government. We have school building that will last forever, but need to be update and maintained. Compare educating a child to raising one. There's not much difference. Will a child raised next to the golf course at the country club have a better advantage then one raised in an older home on Arrow Street. I think not.

-- Posted by windowview on Wed, Oct 13, 2010, at 11:34 AM

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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.
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