The fourth annual State of Saline County meeting Thursday evening, April 24, kicked off with a challenge from Slater Mayor Stephen Allegri.
"We're changing the demographics here in Slater, and we can do it all over the county," he said.
"People in the cities would love to have what we have here," he continued.
The meeting, which brings together leaders in agriculture, education, business, health, finance, government, real estate, politics, tourism, social services, manufacturing and retail was co-sponsored by Marshall Lions Club, Slater Lions Club and the City of Slater.
Guest speaker Tracy Greever-Rice, associate director, community and economic development at University of Missouri's Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis, followed Allegri with a slide presentation of demographic data, showing how Saline County compares to the rest of Missouri.
The statistical picture wasn't always a pretty one.
Saline County, like most other rural Northern Missouri counties, is experiencing a slow decline in population coupled with a rise in the age of that population.
A solid 15 percent of Saline County residents are in the category of "young-old," defined as between the ages of 60 and 80. The "old-old" group, defined as 81 and over, makes up another 5 percent or so. Projections for future job needs in the county show a steep increase in the need for providers of health and social services. Manufacturing jobs needed, on the other hand, are expected to go into negative territory.
From 2000 to 2006, Saline County saw a 3.6 percent drop in population (23,756 to 22,896). Saline County's population growth is lagging behind the rest of Missouri, which experienced a 4.4 percent boost in population.
Migration has been the dominant force in the population drop. Saline County had a net migration of negative 784, in the years of 2000-06. Net migration illustrates the discrepancy between the numbers of people who have moved in and out of an area.
Another area where Saline County is struggling is in the quality of life for children. County indicators on children were ranked 93 out of 114 counties and St. Louis City, according to the annual Kids Count report.
Births to teenage mothers were 51.8 per 1,000 girls in the county, compared to 45.6 in the rest of the state.
However, the most troubling statistic is the number of child abuse cases in the area. Saline County child abuse cases occurred at a rate of 52.2 per 1,000 children, a staggering 19.5 points above the Missouri average.
Saline Count was close to average in other key statistics such as family income and poverty rate.
Family income in the county averaged $39,234 in 2005 (versus $46, 044 in Missouri), and the area's poverty rate was at 14.5 percent, compared to 13.6 percent statewide.
Following the demographics presentation, moderator Jean Gaddy-Wilson invited representatives of financial institutions to answer key questions about economic factors in the region, including small business startups and financing.
Bud Summers, representing State Bank of Slater, said there are a couple of factors common to every startup business.
"It's important to open a business you know something about," he said. "And (owners should) realize that at the beginning cash flow is not automatic."
Bill Orendorff, senior vice president of lending at Wood & Huston Bank, in response to Gaddy-Wilson's question about ideas for small businesses, said it isn't the job of the lender to come up with those ideas.
"Our job is to provide the financing," he said.
Questions about the mortgage-lending crisis brought pointed responses from Summers and Orendorff and from Stan Hinnah of Community Bank.
All three objected to being thrown into the same category of mortgage lenders who make risky loans, and agreed with Orendorff, who said, "It's 'lenders,' not bankers, who are causing the problem. It's not a banking problem -- at least not here in Saline County. "
The remainder of the evening was devoted to small group discussions focusing on three questions -- What are three activities that are occurring in your area right now that will help Saline County progress at a faster pace than it has progressed in the past decade? What are the three most pressing needs you face in the coming year, and are they different needs from what you faced last year at this time? What are the two biggest threats your area faces in the next five years and what three groups in Saline County can help you fight those threats off?
We'll look at the questions and the responses early next week.
Contact Kathy Fairchild at email@example.com