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The first thing they taught me in writing school at Southwest Missouri State was to never use cliches.
But when it comes to my three years here in the Louisiana and Clarksville areas, I can’t think of a better term than “hope springs eternal.”
While that hope is aglow, it’s been tough to hang on, as many know.
A while back, I had a conversation with a local who said he was fed up with people talking about the good old days in eastern Pike County. Memories are fine, he noted, but they don’t pay the rent and they certainly hadn’t let to any resurgence or new growth. I had to agree with him.
So when Kroger left Louisiana last fall, things looked pretty dim. Karl’s Movies and convenience stores helped fill the grocery void, but an area without a full-service grocery store can easily be viewed as depressed.
It was the culmination of several bad years which saw Holcim Cement pull out and Hercules downsize drastically before selling out to Calumet Missouri.
Although the initial job loss of that sale hurt about 25 were retained and Calumet is in the throes of expansion with additional hires expected.
But as things got tough on the large end of things, entrepreneurs were quietly working in both towns.
In Clarksville, Boyd’s Village Market opened and started providing gasoline again.
Nathalie Pettus started sinking major dollars into Overlook Farm, and created a farm-to-table restaurant theme. She also put in a large wedding center and has plans for more.
While not all people in the eastern county have Pettus’ financial prowess, they do have plenty of two essential ingredients for economic recovery — brains and spunk.
I particularly like the attitude of new Louisiana economic development director T.C. Powers. He is pushing for infrastructure because he realizes without it, you can’t attract anyone and will have trouble retaining what you have.
So building the new wastewater treatment plant in Louisiana was huge and patching roads the past two years has been very beneficial. If the town can convince MoDOT to replace the bridge over Noix Creek, it would help immensely.
Clarksville has also been repairing its road and water system infrastructure the past two years, now that the board of aldermen pay attention to city business and put petty differences aside.
The next thing on the agenda is a flood wall, which will be costly and may seen a bit far-fetched. However, I applaud Clarksville’s leaders for aiming high instead of settling for something that won’t solve the problem.
Things have been happening in Louisiana as well. In the past year, Bella Frigento Ristorante and Dos Primos have opened new restaurants.
There is also a mini-construction boom going on in downtown Louisiana right now.
They include a new dining room that will almost triple the seating at Daybreak Donuts and Diner. Tim Carter has cleaned up the mess leftover from the old Rexall and Conboy buildings and is turning it into a nice park. He also shored up the building next door for the Robbyn’s Nest and his home.
Doug and Lynn Dempsey are renovating a building across Georgia Street from there and plan to put in a high-end sports bar.
Mark Dever and Jeannine Kelly from Illinois have bought a building at Fourth and Georgia and plan on turning it into an artist living space and studio.
County Market plans to open in the old Kroger spot next spring and that will be a huge boost, both psychologically and business-wise to the community, not to mention the 75 jobs.
As I said at the outset, there is also great hope.
The Holcim port would be a perfect place for just about any river shipping type of business to flourish. A quiet effort is underway to find new tenants.
Although there is no current funding available, officials in Missouri and Illinois recognize the need to replace the Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River at Louisiana for economic and safety reasons. The good news is that the estimated cost just got cut in half to $50 million.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission realized after a drive here for a recent meeting that Hwy. 54 definitely needs improvement to handle increasing traffic flow. Neighboring counties to the north did it with Hwy. 36, but they had to tax themselves to make sure it happened.
The announcement that the Twin Pike YMCA now has the funds to build a new aquatic center adds to the mix culturally and for better personal health, not to mention its draw for incoming business.
Like the new business people, new volunteers are going to have to step up to fill in for those who have been carrying the freight for years. If not, we could see a year where the Applefest in Clarksville and the Colorfest in Louisiana don’t occur, which is the last thing the area needs.
There are also draws that need to be exploited.
A few topics off the top of my head include MoMo, the underground railroad, James B. Henderson, the railroad bridge, all the old homes and buildings in both towns and more festivals.
As one of my relatives said, “I can’t believe Louisiana doesn’t put on a Mardi Gras.”
Maybe eastern Pike County had to hit rock bottom before people realized the dream could evaporate. There’s no better motivator than fear of your survival ending.
I don’t want to be Pollyanna here because I recognize this resurrection won’t take weeks, it will take years, but at least it is beginning.
All of this takes hard work but it looks to me like there are people out there who are doing just that and leading by example.
I encourage them to keep it up because the area’s survival is contingent upon it.
To fall upon another cliche, I should say this, “last but not least.”
All of the existing business owners and city officials who have weathered this economic storm and didn’t give up need to be applauded. We should at least salute the owners with our business. Without all of them, this downturn would have been much worse.
Throughout it all, the farmers helped keep everything afloat. With their economic engine humming, the county survived a lot, including snow, tornadoes, floods and drought during the downturn.
Perhaps eastern Pike County will see those good old days again but this time, it would be nice to hear about it as a comparison, instead of pure reminiscing.