Rural City Overcomes Hardships by Embracing Modernization

By: Troy D’Souza, Yanran Huang, Grace Lett and Joe Ward 

Rural city bounces back after an economic setback

If you referred to Salisbury, Missouri as “the middle of nowhere,” Tom Burkhart, superintendent for city services, would vehemently disagree. In fact Burkhart said that if you make a medium circle around Chariton County, you’re going to hit major metropolitan markets like Kansas City, St. Louis, Iowa City and Springfield.  

 

“We’re actually being overlooked in the type of resources we can offer them [companies],” Burkhart said. “The greatest of those resources are the people themselves.”

 

Burkhart insists that the work ethic of the people within Salisbury is prominent. But the integrity of the people was tested when over a hundred citizens lost their job after two major manufacturing companies left the city. 

 

General Electric, which manufactured air filters, and SEMCO, a metal sheeting and air duct manufacturer, shut down in 2008 which left more than 12 percent of the population of Salisbury unemployed. Chariton County also had an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent in 2009 according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

 

Other counties across Missouri like Crawford and Monroe have faced high unemployment rates once major manufacturing companies left. What makes Salisbury different is what they did about it.

 

 

The manufacturing companies closing personally affected Pam Lockard, business sales consultant for Chariton Valley – both of her parents were out of work. It took almost two years for her dad to find a new job. 

 

“It was very hard, not having jobs at all with both parents,” Lockard said. 

Burkhart said that while the companies closing was a devastating loss to the community, many people felt the need to take matters into their own hands. Because of this, the community of Salisbury has found several ways to bounce back their economy. 

 

“When the factories closed, that gave an incentive for local residents to pull up their bootstraps and start businesses of their own,” said Burkhart.

 

Salisbury has seen a growth in small businesses since the factories’ closure that has promoted a beneficial economy. For example, Moxie Gymnastics opened in 2015 and has not only provided a unique opportunity to the people within the town but Moxie Gymnastics owner, Claire Emmerich, said that people travel outside of Salisbury to take classes at the gym which helps other local businesses as well.

 

“I know on Wednesday mornings because I have a preschool gymnastics program,” Emmerich said, “all of those parents take their kids to eat lunch afterwards. They all head over to the bakery or Bradshaw’s.” 

 

A local family, the Gordons, has also expanded their business from a lumberyard to a ballroom to a convenience store. Their success story is one of many that Salisbury has seen since these new innovations have begun. 

 

The city of Salisbury is 100 percent fiber optic allowing faster access to high speed internet, which is something that even larger cities don’t have.Easy access to fiber optics is attractive to prospective businesses and a fully certified industrial park is also opening up which will be ready for a business to begin building immediately. 

 

Because the people of Salisbury found a way to overcome the factories’ loss, there has been a decrease in unemployment. In 2010, the USDA reported that Chariton County had an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent and 5.8 percent in 2014. In fact, the most recent unemployment rate from 2016 is 4.3 percent, which was lower than the state’s 2016 unemployment rate at 4.5 percent. 

 

However, while Salisbury is a success story, major manufacturing companies’ closing in rural towns is a larger problem. 

 

Judy Stallmann is a professor of rural sociology and agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri. She said the direct impact is a loss of manufacturing jobs, while the indirect impact is the loss of jobs by firms that supplied inputs, parts and services to the manufacturing firm.

 

“Theimpacts for the community are only based on the supplying firms that are  located in the community,” Stallmann said. “Any supplying firms outside the community may lose jobs, but those are impacts on other communities, not on the community that lost the manufacturing job.”

 

However, while the repercussions vary one thing rural communities can do is adjust to more modern technology as a way to attract businesses. Lockard said she learned, firsthand, the importance of applying fiber optics to rural cities. 

 

“Many towns in rural Missouri, they're trying to stay alive in by having fiber optics as an option for businesses come to or for residents to have,” Lockard said, “and hope that it will attract businesses and also attract residents to the area to keep the towns alive.”

 

Visual Journalist & Cinematographer & Multimedia Producer

 

© 2020 By Yanran Huang. All Rights Reserved.