Missouri’s seven major economic development regions have traits unique to each area, but all share some key aspects.
The regions include the northwest, northeast, southwest, southeast and central sections of the state, along with the areas surrounding Missouri’s two major metropolitan areas, Kansas City and St. Louis.
St. Louis Region
As the oldest and most populated portion of the state, the St. Louis region not surprisingly takes a leadership role in the state’s economy. The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County comprise the core of this area, but newer regions such as St. Charles County include some of the state’s most dramatic economic growth. Citing specific hotspots in the St. Louis region is a little like trying to identify which member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is the best singer.
The core of St. Louis city and county contains several good examples. From the historically minded and culturally rich Laclede’s Landing to University City’s “U. City Loop,” the region boasts scores of prime retail and commercial locations. Because of the overall economic strength and diversity of the area’s communities, many of these are supported by more than the traditional highway-access mentality, but often have evolved as destinations because of a combination of unique location and market.
Hazelwood is one good example of the strengths of suburban St. Louis County. Situated along Interstate 270 near its link with I-70, this community is home to more than 800 businesses, including 12 Fortune 500 companies, six Fortune 1,000 companies and 10 corporate headquarters. Although Hazelwood has several internal strengths, location is an obvious plus. The community is approximately 10 minutes from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
Kansas City Region
The Kansas City region in some ways mirrors St. Louis’ development, but with several significant variations. While both St. Louis and Kansas City are located along state borders. The “bi-state” split is more pronounced in Kansas City, with both positive and negative impact, because the separation from Kansas is not courtesy of a mile-wide river, but a strip of asphalt.
From a business perspective, the competition from Kansas is generally positive in Kansas City, driving Missouri leaders to compete for businesses in a way that is unusual for many major metropolitan areas. Of course, the opposite is true with Kansas incentive programs, which have touched off a longstanding debate over the need for greater collaboration to maximize tax revenues.
The Kansas City region also includes St. Joseph, a city of more than 75,000 that would be a major regional center in almost any other area of the state. St. Joseph, however, is just far enough from Kansas City to have achieved a unique identity, including economic development areas such as animal sciences, it is close enough to benefit from some Kansas City impact. In fact, people flying out of Kansas City International Airport can get there faster than someone from the Lee’s Summit suburbs of Kansas City.
Central Missouri is anchored by the east-west I-70 corridor, with regional communities Boonville and Columbia, and to the south, the state capital of Jefferson City and the Lake of the Ozarks recreational mecca. These areas increasingly represent a significant economic force in the state. Columbia is the most obvious strongpoint. Home to the University of Missouri flagship campus with its medical and science centers, Columbia over the past decade has utilized its strengths in location, transportation and other factors to become a major business center.
Jefferson City has long benefited from its status as the state capital, but in recent years its business development has accelerated, again in part due to location and transportation. Both “Jeff City” and Columbia benefit from their locations near the center of the state, and also find advantage in their proximity to the economic and quality of life strengths of other regions.
The Lake of the Ozarks’ history as a tourism center dates to the 1930s, when Bagnell Dam was constructed, but in recent years development has exploited a more modern and diverse strength, with convention and retirement centers now nearly equaling more traditional seasonal resort attractions.
Southwest & Southeast Missouri
The southern two areas of Missouri take recreation and tourism one step further. Southwest Missouri is home to the world-famous Branson entertainment center, while Southeast Missouri includes some of the highest-quality outdoor amenities and unspoiled forestry in the Midwest. Both of these regions, however, have significant additions to this tourism theme.
In Southwest Missouri, the cities of Joplin and Springfield are becoming two of the state’s brightest economic development centers. Springfield’s Greene County is ranked fourth in the state in terms of economic might. That growth is expanding outward along the east-west I-44 corridor toward Joplin and to the south into Christian County. There, communities such as Ozark are taking on a dramatic expansion. And further south, Branson remains a stalwart in the state’s tourism industry.
Southeast Missouri is blessed with several areas of major economic development along the Mississippi River and I-55 from St. Louis and into the state’s bootheel. The region once known as the Big Springs also offers many outdoor tourism activities. Cape Girardeau is the economic hotspot for the region, fueled by the state university campus there.
Northwest & Northeast Missouri
Northwest and Northeast Missouri are among the least expensive locations in the nation that still boast solid infrastructure, including major colleges and universities, solid transportation networks and recreational amenities.
Two major north-south interstates—I-29 and I-35—run through Northwest Missouri, connecting Kansas City to Canada and the Great Lakes and making the areas around those arteries prime spots for development. In addition, the Maryville region is home to more than 7,000 students at Northwest Missouri State University. Other major centers here include Chillicothe and Trenton, sizable regional markets that take advantage of major highway connections.
Truman State University and A.T. Still University— both in Kirksville—draw students to the other side of the state. Northeast Missouri also includes Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. The city today has a thriving arts community as well as a diverse industrial economy. Communities such as Brookfield, Macon, Mexico and Moberly also hold regional focus, and major highways and rail lines tie the area to key centers in Missouri as well as Iowa and Illinois.