Students bring growth, prosperity to local economy

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By JESSICA FRASER
Reporter

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — As a full-time graduate student in speech communication, Kelsie Howard has a lot on her plate. But when Howard isn’t concentrating on school, she said she enjoys spending time at her favorite local businesses.

“I’m always at Applebee’s – always, all the time,” Howard said. “I do most of my shopping at Wal-Mart because it’s very close. I love the bowling alley because there isn’t one in Warrensburg other than the one on campus, so that’s fun to go to whenever I have spare time…and Tony’s. I always get the pecan pie there, and it’s my favorite thing ever.”

Ama Adams, a sophomore studying social work, said she loves to go to Warrensburg’s fast food restaurants.

“I love Orange Leaf, and then Steak ‘n Shake of course,” Adams said. “Chick-fil-A or Taco Bell would be next.”

From grocery stores to beauty salons, Warrensburg has a wide variety of small businesses and chain stores for students to choose from. With restaurants, gyms and social hot spots within minutes of UCM’s main campus, Howard said she prefers to shop locally instead of driving to larger cities.

“Mostly for me it’s gas prices,” Howard said. “I live in Warrensburg, so shopping anywhere in Warrensburg is a lot cheaper than driving down to Kansas City, Lee’s Summit (or) Blue Springs. I would say the farthest that I drive anywhere in Warrensburg is six minutes with traffic, so I just take the back roads and I can get there really fast.”

Warrensburg has approximately 19,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The University of Central Missouri has more than 14,000 enrolled students, according to the university’s website. With thousands of students living within the city limits and commuting from surrounding areas, UCM has an impact on the types of businesses that come to Warrensburg and the choices that business owners make in their day-to-day operations.

Mark Montgomery, owner of The Zone Tattoo and Body Piercing, said UCM students have a huge impact on his small business.

“Every semester I’ve got a new set of kids, so (the student population) definitely affects how our business is run,” Montgomery said.

In addition to shopping at local businesses, some UCM students also work for employers in the Johnson County area. As they earn a steady paycheck and gain work experience, those students contribute to the success and prosperity of the businesses they work for.

Suzanne Taylor, executive director of the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce, said college students bring value to the chamber’s member businesses.

“The impact is most certainly the accessibility of the student body and the workforce to our local employers, and the opportunity for mentorships and internship programs,” Taylor said.

The city of Warrensburg, Warrensburg Main Street and the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce are invested in the success of local businesses, and they actively support the Love What’s Local campaign on the chamber website and Facebook page. Taylor said students should continue shopping in the city that they call home.

“We have a selection of retail businesses as well as small privately owned businesses,” Taylor said. “We’d rather they shop local because we ‘love what’s local.’”

Jay Meldrem, general manager for Heroes Restaurant and Pub, said he is also aware of the impact college students have on his business.

“When the students come back in town there are more opportunities to make money, but also the staffing and the professors, all of that seems to double the population in a very short period of time,” Meldrem said. “There’s a lot more opportunities that open up when students are in town.”

As UCM students spend money and give their time to local businesses, they invest in the economic development of the entire county. Tracy Brantner, executive director of the Johnson County Economic Development Corporation, said she has seen the impact that UCM students have on the local economy.

Brantner said when students shop locally, the money they pay in sales tax goes to services that make Johnson County safer and more secure. Warrensburg’s sales tax revenue spikes when students return to school. In 2015, the Missouri Department of Revenue reported an increase of 4.47 percent from the

second quarter to the third quarter of the city’s fiscal year.

Brantner said as millions of dollars flow into the local economy, student purchases help fund public services.

“When we’re all helping to pay for roads, public safety, police department, fire, ambulance…that raises all boats and we’re able to provide better services in a way that impacts us all,” Brantner said.

Brantner said when UCM students work for local businesses, they also contribute to the economic stability of the region as a whole.

“I think it’s a win-win for both the businesses and the students that are attending UCM because the businesses are looking for quality employees,” Brantner said. “The talent that the students have, coupled with the businesses that are looking for talented employees…I think that strikes a win-win in the community because we do have a lot of businesses that are looking for help, and I think that there are lots of job opportunities out there in a variety of businesses for students.”

Warrensburg had 618 registered businesses within city limits by August 2016, according to the Johnson County Economic Development Corporation. With a diverse population of consumers and potential employees, Taylor said small businesses and retail chains will keep coming to Warrensburg.

“We have a great quality of life and we have a strong workforce,” Taylor said. “I most certainly think it makes a difference.”