Joplin City Council approves allocation for health care initiative

Feb. 24—Joplin city leaders have approved an $80,000 funding allocation toward the cost to commission a strategic plan for a health related economic development initiative.

City Manager Nick Edwards and Mayor Pro Tem Keenan Cortez are working on the effort, called the Joplin Regional Alliance for Healthcare and Health Science.

Additional members of the effort are the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, and local medical and education institutions.

They want to spur long-term growth and economic development related to health care and health science. The cooperative includes executives from Joplin's health and educational institutions as well as leaders in financial services who are community boosters.

Dean Van Galen, president of Missouri Southern State University, told the City Council this week that the cooperative was formed last fall.

"When this group of business leaders, educational leaders and community leaders came together last fall, we all recognized that Joplin has a very unique set of assets and strengths in health care and health science education," he said. "High-quality health care providers (include) Freeman and Mercy, Kansas City University's medical and dental schools, and health sciences at Missouri Southern and Crowder College."

They talked about how those strengths could support future educational, economic and community success for Joplin and the region. Initially they plan to focus on educational and workforce needs in the local health care industry.

"We all know that we need more nurses and health care professionals," Van Galen said. "But, more importantly, we realize that by working together and having a well-grounded comprehensive strategy for health care and health science assets could make a tremendous and positive impact on Joplin and the region."

Initiative members decided to commission experts in health care and economic development to devise a plan that could serve as a road map for the project.

Cost sharing

Travis Stephens, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said the cooperative members considered four consultants. The firm that was preferred, TECeconomy of Columbus, Ohio, was priced at $85,000 below its closest competitor. That is the firm the group proposed to hire to put together a plan for the enterprise.

The cost for the consulting work to develop the plan is $166,160.

The city of Joplin was asked to provide $80,000 toward that cost. The remainder, $86,160, will be raised by soliciting private donations, according to city documents. Stephens said the effort will unite the leading economic drivers of the city.

Before the meeting, the Globe asked Edwards why the city should pay a larger proportional share of the cost.

Edwards said economic development is a core function of the city.

"Cities all across the country are competing for investment that enhances economic mobility and improves the quality of life for residents," the city manager said.

"It is important for cities to take a lead role and partner with others to take advantage of opportunities that may exist," he said. "Thankfully, the city of Joplin has strong community partnerships and leaders with proven success to help with these efforts. The Joplin Regional Alliance for Healthcare and Health Science represent businesses and institutions that have a key stake in economic development and can provide meaningful contributions that help the broader community while also strengthening their position regionally and nationally."

Also, improving the health of the community itself is a key driver for economic development, the city manager said.

Stephens said the chamber will house and execute the plan, but will provide quarterly reports on the status.

He said he realizes that a lot of people are concerned about the city's share of the cost.

"It was important for all of us to have skin in the game," he said at the council meeting. "However, budgets being what they were not everyone could contribute the same amount. So we landed on a number and we wanted to come to the city and make a proposal that was at least less than half the cost.

"Yes, it's more than all of these entities individually, but we also feel that every entity that benefits from this plan moving forward ... it's also going to benefit the community. That's why we feel Joplin should step in with a higher amount."

'The future of Joplin'

Rudy Farber, chairman of the board of Community Bank and Trust and a key contributor to the effort to bring KCU to Joplin, said that the economic impact of the medical school is about $35 million annually. He said he also saw figures that the medical and soon to be open KCU dental school add about $4 million to the tax base.

"There's an old saying," Farber said, "that if you don't know where you want to go that any road will get you there. In this case, we want the road to be defined so that we can execute and do what is best for Joplin and the surrounding area," he said of the need for the strategic plan.

The city manager asked for approval of the allocation saying it would move Joplin forward.

Councilman Phil Stinnett asked where the money would come from in the city budget. The city manager said he would use money from the budget allocated to the city manager's office and that some of it is meant to be used for unforeseen expenses.

Both Stinnett and fellow council member Josh DeTar said they had initially been concerned about the city paying that large of the share.

Stinnett said those involved in the collaborative are all important to the community. "With the group of people that are involved in this I think it would be foolish for one council member to sit up here and argue about being supportive about whatever you've asked us to support in this case," he said. "I look forward to see some good results."

"I think maybe I've had study fatigue," DeTar said. "You know we've been paying for studies and paying for all these things and initially I was against it. Kind of like what Mr. Stinnett said, I went back and looked at the people and the entities involved, and when I looked at that list all I saw were highly motivated, highly successful individuals that are coming together to work for the betterment of Joplin and the surrounding areas. I take comfort in that group to know you aren't going to let this fail, you aren't going to drop the ball, so I have a huge amount of confidence."

Councilman Gary Shaw said he and Farber remember an old saying that "every once in a while you have to prime the pump to get something going" and that the city had been financially tight for some time. But this may be the step up to benefit the community, he said.

Mayor Doug Lawson said the investments of Freeman and Mercy are evident along with the advancements in the community made by the presence of KCU and its students.

"My view is that health care may very well be the future of Joplin," Lawson said. "If you want to pay for stuff you have to grow the city. I think you folks right there are making it happen."

DeTar made a motion to approve the allocation, which was seconded by Councilman Mark Farnham. The council voted seven in favor, with one member absent and one, Cortez, abstaining because he is a member of the alliance.