Fort Leonard Wood and its neighboring cities are economically booming; a handful of businesses have popped up in the area since 2011, and more are on the way.
"St. Robert brought in Culver's in the spring of 2011, and Waynesville got its Veterans Administration Clinic in 2011, which brought 30 new jobs and its new Occupational Technical Community College building," Wayne Morgan, director of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, said. "It looks like the Phelps County Regional Medical Center is going to put in a hospital. Colton's opened in the fall of 2011, and Panera Bread and Anytime Fitness also opened in 2011."
Planning for the future
Morgan said there are other plans still under consideration including more shopping and storage centers, as well as a filling station, which are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
"Retailers are still doing well, and there's more to come," Morgan said. "Another box store is looking at coming to the area. We'll know something in three to four months."
A box store is a major retailer that looks to put up a building ranging in size from 60,000 to 200,000 square feet, Morgan explained.
The sales tax revenue for Pulaski County has increased and, according to Morgan, the county posted its biggest-ever sales-tax revenue figure of more than $95.6 million in the second quarter of 2012. For the first two quarters of 2012, the county's sales-tax revenue is $6 million ahead of half of the 2011fiscal year.
Morgan was enthusiastic about a new, 70-acre industrial park in Waynesville, located off Route H. A road bore will soon be completed to bring natural gas to the site, which will also be served by Laclede Electric and the Pulaski County Sewer District.
"We want to bring manufacturing, industry and warehouses to the park," Morgan said. "There's a possibility of putting up buildings on speculation to see if any businesses want to locate there."
The city of Waynesville and the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, a public-private partnership, are considering a separate deal where each will apply for a grant to build a 20,000 square-foot building that could bring 50 jobs to Waynesville.
A non-abundance of buildings is currently the chief obstacle blockading manufacturing jobs from moving the area, according to Morgan.
"I often have businesses ask for buildings of 20,000 to 100,000 square feet, sometimes up to 500,000 for businesses that would employ anywhere from 40 people to 700," Morgan said.
Both domestic and foreign companies have inquired about relocating to the area, but those companies seldom want land without structure because of this, Morgan has emphasized the importance of the community to influence such companies to move.
Revenue from the fort
Fort Leonard Wood brings revenue to the area through graduation ceremonies, Morgan said.
Page 2 of 3 - "A total of 250,000 visitors for graduation ceremonies visit this area on an annual basis," Morgan said. "Most stay one to two nights, and pay for lodging, food and souvenirs.
The post trains nearly 90,000 students per year, bringing roughly 255,000 visitors who attend graduation ceremonies.
"Many business-site selectors don't understand the impact of those visitors, but the Tourism Bureau does a great job of promoting that impact."
Sept. 11, 2001 also sparked a change in growth because of the nation's growing defense needs. The availability of land, the lower cost of utilities in the Midwest and the proximity to the interstate also contribute to area growth.
Morgan also pointed out that six out of 10 retirees from Fort Leonard Wood want to remain in the area. "Most of these retirees are in their late 40s or early 50s, and they're highly skilled," Morgan said. "They are a valuable employee source."
Another valuable source, Morgan said, are military spouses. "They are candidates for employment, too," he said. "Military spouses -- both men and women -- are a valuable untapped labor source, according to Fort Leonard Wood employment specialist Dan Danzo.
"We have a constant flow of job applicants, at all skill levels, from food-service work to mechanical and biochemical engineers," said Danzo, who helps organize job fairs for military spouses twice a year at Fort Leonard Wood. "The fact that they are only here for 2-3 years is a drawback for some, but the average adult changes jobs four to five times in their lifetime, so there's no guarantee that a civilian employee won't leave after a few years. By hiring a military spouse, you get a qualified person and a valued employee, and with their contacts on post, they can find a valuable replacement when they leave."
A growing population
Between 2000 and 2010, the Waynesville-St. Robert area increased in population by 46 percent. In the same time frame, Pulaski County grew 27 percent, from more than 41,000 to approximately 52,000, while Fort Leonard Wood grew 10 percent from 13,500 to more than 15,000. The population of Fort Leonard Wood accounts for 29 percent of the Pulaski County population.
Fort Leonard Wood's average daytime population is 34,000, which aids the estimated economic impact of $3 billion to the region.
In November 2011, Pulaski County's unemployment rate stood at a mere 7.1 percent compared to 8.2 percent for the state of Missouri and 8.6 percent for the United States.
Pulaski County is a busy tourist destination as well, with three major emphases: outdoors, Historic Route 66, and history museums.
The county has nine outfitters that provide canoes, rafts, kayaks, Jon boats and inner tubes for float trips on the 250-mile Gasconade River, and its tributary Big Piney River. Both are known for excellent fishing, as is the Roubidoux River, located in the middle of Waynesville.
Page 3 of 3 - Those with their own water rigs can get transportation to and from the rivers for a fee paid to the outfitters, or may choose to enter at one of eight public access points.
Historic Route 66 draws visitors from all over the world, as they come to see the 1923 steel trestle bridge in Devil's Elbow, and to visit the Elbow Inn and sign the guest book.
Michelle Johnson runs the nation's second-largest distributor of Barbie dolls, another intriguing tourist location at 217 W. Second Street in Dixon. named Dream House Dolls, the museum is an official Barbie doll dealer for Mattel.
Another unusual and popular attraction is the Cave Restaurant, owned and operated by Gary Dyer and located at 26880 Rochester Road. The restaurant is located inside a cave and claims to be the world's only full-service restaurant in such a location. The Cave was cited by Time Magazine/CNN Online as one of the 10 most unusual restaurants in the world. The Cave not only offers dining and hospitality, but also float trips and a pay fishing lake in the summer.
While much of the U.S. economy continues to falter, Fort Leonard Wood, St. Robert and Waynesville are still very much alive and improving, and the growth details definitely show that the area will continue to grow into the future.