This week I had a meeting and spoke with Joplin City leader’s including the City Manager Nick Edwards, Finance Director Leslie Haase, and Mayor Doug Lawson, in regards to concerns over city finances and expenditures. The meeting went well, but it did draw some new concerns that I had not delved into since early this year. However, it is an issue as important as public safety, which I consider the number one priority of our city!

In fact, in addition to my concerns over public safety, which encompasses Police and Fire pay, homelessness and panhandling, as well as crime, I am also a strong proponent of locally owned small businesses in Joplin.

That being said, in early 2021, Joplin government received interest from a development group for land purchase at the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park, where they wanted Joplin to give what would become a major distribution center for the Midwest, due to a nexus of the two major interstates linking Joplin to areas of the United States to the north and south, as well as, east and west. 

The Joplin Globe reported how the President of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce had spoken previously about the desire of companies wanting to locate in areas like Jopllin with these types of conditions being met, adding that this is “our bread and butter.”

However, are multi-million dollar tax abatement breaks always the bread and butter for Joplin residents and locally owned small businesses, especially with our unemployment at historic record lows?

The answer for many, shows that this is not always the case!

The JACC President Stephens stated that the tax breaks to big corporations like Casey’s is “just a delay to help these companies get started … get ramped up to full employment and help offset some of the risk,” adding that Missouri state law allows the city to retain title to the property for a specified time so the company does not have to pay property taxes for those years. However, our local small businesses who provide a vast amount of jobs to our local residents do not get these types of government provided incentives, that are dished out like candy to multi-billion dollar companies!

In fact, according to macrotrends  Casey’s General Stores annual revenue for 2022 was $12.953B, a 48.76% increase from 2021. Therefore, the question is, why are we giving out multi-million dollar taxpayer incentives to billion dollar corporations, while not only leaving local businesses to fend for themselves most of the time, but also creating greater competition for their employee staff that they are struggling to keep, and which is the lifeblood of their businesses!

Ultimately, the JACC President is correct in stating that these tax breaks to corporations “helps offset some of the risks,” but those very same tax breaks are the very offsets are not available, and out of reach to our local residents who want to open small businesses, or small businesses who want to expand. In my book, I consider locally owned small businesses “the backbone of our city,”  or our “bread and butter,” and their employees are the lifeblood of their businesses! After all, without employees, the small businesses have to cut hours, cut days open, or shutter their doors completely!

Secondly, the JACC’s President’s comment that it the tax breaks are “just a delay to help these companies get started… get ramped up to full employment and help offset some of the risk,” which makes deals like the Casey’s deal by our City Council a knife in the back of our local small business owners, who are already struggling to staff their businesses, and therefore struggle to keep their doors open full time! If we had high unemployment, this would be a much different issue!

Regardless, just this week, KOAM News Station in Joplin reported

“Joplin and Missouri’s unemployment remained at a record low in August. The Joplin unemployment rate was 2.4%. According to the Missouri economic research and information center, this is the lowest it has been since 1990.”

Sadly, this means that we will see small businesses have to compete with this new distribution center, who now has tax-dollar support through tax breaks, of which Joplin small businesses don’t have access to.

I personally spoke with a few local small businesses, and they all expressed their concerns and frustrations over the tax abatements approved by the city giving tax incentives, many times lasting for decades, as is the case with the Casey’ Distribution Center. 

PR Newswire highlighted one example of these tax abatements to large Corporate Conglomerates hurting small businesses including when a store like Natural Grocers, who have 141 stores in 19 states came into Joplin with massive tax breaks, giving them an extra edge against their locally owned competition. Former Mayor Siebert touted it as great for Joplin, claiming that “Despite being an agricultural community, we have limited access to organic, fresh produce at affordable prices.” He added that  “The City is thrilled for Natural Grocers to open the doors to 100-percent organic produce, naturally-raised meats and more.” 

However, that extra edge given to wealthy corporate conglomerates tends to cut into other locally owned small businesses profits such as our local Farmers Markets in Joplin and Webb City, healthfood stores like Suzannes Natural Foods, and Joplin Greenhouse and Coffee Shop, which also sold local farmers produce, milk, honey and other products! These types of deals also forces local farmers to sell at severely discounted prices to big corporations, leaving the farmers with little profit, corporations with big pocketbooks, and the consumer with limited choices beyond the big box stores!

Also, local small businesses voiced their concerns, noting that it hurts their businesses, especially during times like these, when we have 2.4% unemployment, causing them to struggle in staffing their workplace that much more.  Sadly, the new corporate jobs will swallow up local small business jobs, leaving them even more constrained in their day to day operations. 

In fact, after speaking with a large number of local small business owners, they all came to one very distinct consensus, which one Joplin business owner stated very eloquently, as they said…

“Small businesses never get any tax breaks or  incentives grants, yet small businesses provide the largest percentage of jobs in the country.  The large companies have no loyalty or roots in the community.  They’re here for selfish reasons, take what they can, and leave when they’re done.”

Adding onto the struggle for local small businesses, Bloomberg reported that the core US Inflation has risen to 40-Year High, which will secure a big Federal Reserve rate hike!. They added that…

“The core consumer price index, which excludes food and energy, increased 6.6% from a year ago, the highest level since 1982, Labor Department data showed Thursday. From a month earlier, the core CPI climbed 0.6% for a second month.” They added that “the report stresses how high inflation has broadened across the economy, eroding Americans’ paychecks and forcing many to rely on savings and credit cards to keep up.

Many of the numbers above show a bleak ‘State of the Union’, in regards to the economy, but they even paint a rosier picture than the more conservative news organizations see, such as Newsmax!  In fact, Newsmax reported how…

“Inflation in the United States accelerated in September, with the cost of housing and other necessities intensifying pressure on households, wiping out pay gains that many have received and ensuring that the Federal Reserve will keep raising interest rates aggressively.”

Therefore, with a shrinking economy, local workers desperate to find a financial fix, they will be looking to find ways to stave off the most painful government tax of all… INFLATION, as it shrinks the value of their dollars, forcing them to find new ways to keep up. Now, with our local government giving tax breaks to corporations like Caseys to help them offset some of the risks, so they can get ramped up to full employment, this handicaps our local small businesses, and at a time when those very same small businesses are trying to rebound from the 2020 unconstitutional governmental forced shutdowns of their private businesses, and then massive inflation on their goods.

Today, we have a national government that is out of control, spiraling our nation into one of the worst financial situations since the Great Depression, and more local governments that were submissive and cooperative with those who demanded obedience, ignoring the Constitution and the pleas of those who they claim to serve… “We the People.” 

Now, it is time for Joplin residents to speak up and demand accountability and change! It is time for our leaders to start listening to their constituents! It is time for our elected leadership to start looking at the cost of their votes and actions, or come 2024 there will be a reckoning to be had at the ballot boxes, because it isn’t simply our national government that is hurting and crippling our local small businesses and residents, but it is the actions and decisions of this city as well!

Sadly, although I found the revelations of how business is directed in Joplin as concerning, and the discussions with our local small business owners heartbreaking, I also found it all as enlightening and a jumping off point, as we begin to work towards a stronger Joplin that puts our local residents first, our locally owned small businesses first, and thus puts our community first!