As St. Francois County turns 200, we asked St. Francois County IDA President Al Sullivan what makes the county such an appealing place to live, work and play.
“The first thing that I don’t think people really fully understood or accepted is St. Francois County is a first class county in the state and that puts it in the league with St. Joseph, Springfield, Cape Girardeau and a lot of others,” Sullivan said. “We are a first class county now and people that are looking for a place to live … go where the most services are offered.”
Sullivan said St. Francois County jumped from a third class county to a first class county. According to the St. Francois County website the designation occurred Jan. 1, 2013.
“If you are looking to come to Missouri from out of state, you are looking for certain things and there are certain services provided by first class counties that are not provided elsewhere,” Sullivan said. “It still really hasn’t sunk in to the people who live in St. Francois County that we are playing in the league of first class counties but to companies outside the state and maybe people moving in it is a big thing.”
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Sullivan said when a company is looking to move from one state to another they have to look at numerous factors including the needs of their employees.
“You’ve got all of the families of the officers and the bosses of the company that are involved in taking their kids out of school,” Sullivan said. “They said OK what kind of state are we going to, what kind of educational system do they have, what kind of higher educational system. When you look at St. Francois County, you see that we have five very fine school districts, then you have a community college.”
Sullivan said having a community college such as Mineral Area College is something not every county has and it is a real asset to the area. MAC has on-campus partnerships with University of Missouri-St. Louis and Central Methodist University.
Mineral Area College’s Fall 2021 enrollment is currently 2,295 students with 1,244 of those coming in from outside of St. Francois County.
“Mineral Area College is proud to be a part of the St. Francois County bicentennial celebration,” Mineral Area College President Dr. Joe Gilgour said. “We have been a part of this community for nearly 100 years and are proud to serve the residents with high-quality, affordable, education.”
Gilgour said Mineral Area College is very attractive to those outside the area because of the low cost, personal attention, and high quality programs offered.
“Students find the support they need to succeed in small classes taught by our dedicated faculty, preparing them to transfer to a university or begin a career,” Gilgour said. “At MAC, students experience a welcoming environment and opportunities for growth and engagement both inside and outside the classroom.”
Sullivan said when you get past looking at educational opportunities, you start to look at crime statistics, municipal services, and medical facilities such as Parkland Health Center, with locations in Farmington and Bonne Terre.
The former Mineral Area Regional Medical Center could soon be getting a new life as a central institution for those suffering from homelessness, mentally illness and substance abuse issues. East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA), partnering with Great Mines Health Center, is applying for a Community Development Block Grant with the Department of Economic Development through the state of Missouri for up to $2 million to renovate a portion of the old hospital.
“I think from the state point of medical services, you have an array of locally-owned as well as nationally-owned skill care facilities,” Sullivan said. “You have a number of things, my kids are going to be taken care of, higher education can be obtained. There is something in case my mother has to move from Pennsylvania and can no longer live alone. We can bring her here to Missouri and put her in a skilled nursing facility that is of high quality.”
Sullivan said you begin to round out that whole ball of wax ranging from the children to the parents of the people who are moving here. He said covering those wide range of needs helps satisfy companies and their families when they get ready to move.
“We have a Swedish-owned firm in this county that has doubled its expansion and when the gentleman came here to dedicate the building and recognize the expansion he noted the quality of workers that we have,” Sullivan said. “Since they own several different companies, they may in the future think about locating another one of their distribution points here.”
Sullivan said the company, which is located in Bonne Terre, can ship anywhere in the United States overnight and that is a great advantage point of St. Francois County.
Fuel costs are a big expense so that is something considered when a company or family is looking at moving.
“You are very close to Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, just an hour drive either way, to access any other things you would want …”
Sullivan said sometimes we may feel like we have traffic but we do not know what traffic is. He said we are able to drive to the drug store or grocery store and get back with little trouble.
“I think all of those things are factors that attribute to people coming to this area and companies moving here,” Sullivan said.
The county is already home to a number of large companies and Sullivan said the largest employers are not in the public sector, but instead are located with the industrial parks.
“The jobs that are paying something are in our industrial parks,” Sullivan said. “There has been three companies located in the Bonne Terre IDA in the last year and you don’t even see the buildings when you drive by because they are down the hill from where you go by on the highway.”
Sullivan said the industrial parks have done so well that Farmington is out of land, Parks Hills has maybe one lot open and the IDA is working toward getting a new property in Bonne Terre certified as an industrial site, which would be the first of its kind in the four-county region.
St. Francois County is attractive for more than its education, healthcare and opportunities but also for its recreation. The yearly festivities such as the St. Francois County Fair, Country Days and Blues, Desloge Labor Day Picnic, Brews and BBQ, offer unique fun for the entire community. Then there are the state parks, bike trails, and more ready for everyone to enjoy.
“The quality of life is recreation and having fun things to do and there is an abundance in this area,” Sullivan said. “Certainly to local business people, the state parks in the region are a source of customers.”
Sullivan said campers come into the neighboring communities to shop, eat and explore.
“All of this is a tremendous economic impact,” Sullivan said. “When Mel Weems and the group from Bonne Terre bought the land where the St. Francois State Park is, they bought up a farm and gave it to the state to make a state park, those were some pioneers who could see down the road what it meant to have recreational activities in your area to attract people. Some of those people who planted those seeds. we are now bearing the fruit of their hard labor.”