Making a hometown worth fighting for

Friday, October 12, 2012
News editor Murray Bishoff

In the last few years, Monett has become farther away from the center of the business world.

According to John R. Daley, with the Daley Group in the St. Louis area, major companies have pulled their executives out of St. Louis over the past three years. First they pulled out teams, then the executives said they needed others back at their old offices to support their work.

Over a few years, St. Louis has been downgraded from a major center of business to a bedroom community for Chicago. The centers of business have moved to New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. The recent move of Charter, which owns the cable TV service for Monett, from St. Louis to Connecticut was no fluke.

The consequence of this shift has been enormous for executives who have been let go. Daley's firm helps these highly trained and accomplished professionals look for work. Daley has to tell them that the jobs paying $600,000 in St. Louis are gone.

Many of these business professionals don't want to leave St. Louis. They have roots and family there. Daley tells them to change their expectations.

Jobs advertised that look promising for these executives often don't exist. Daley said he learned that companies are advertising to look like their firms are actively seeking people. In fact, they are only trying to give an appearance to business watchers. Most of the jobs have either been filled internally or won't be filled at all.

Daley coaches his clients how to find work under these conditions. Resumés seldom crack the door and companies are discarding applications wholesale if they lack key words. Any mention of religion or politics on a Facebook page can get a person booted from consideration for a job.

Daley tells his clients to take someone out to coffee from a company that might have a job and pick their brain for possible job openings anywhere. These informal conversations are now the new way in. Word of mouth is now far more powerful than any other way to find one of these jobs.

Another consequence to this management drain has been a drying up of corporate money for the community. The United Way of St. Louis is now saying that half of the not-for-profit organizations in the area may disappear in the next year. Daley helped to reorganize three not-for-profits into one new entity to try to preserve their missions.

For professionals stranded in such a landscape, taking a job outside of their familiar territory requires moving. In this economy, that's risky. New jobs could disappear in a year or two. In that case, how likely is it that another comparable job can be found in the same town? Moving again, and selling another house, could be a very daunting challenge.

Such a scenario makes moving to a distant place like Monett much less desirable. If a job folds, finding something else here, in a rural area, would be less likely.

In such an environment, making Monett attractive with other amenities, like a new YMCA or a new library, becomes even more important. If doors are closing in St. Louis, which has some of the best arts and culture opportunities in the Midwest, making Monett attractive as an alternative requires building more of what makes a community a home, a place worth fighting to keep.