The recent closure of two Tyson Foods poultry plants in northwest Missouri has prompted economic soul-searching among officials and legislators in the region.
Local government leaders and Missouri’s congressional delegation are pointing to the fact that the plant closures removed nearly 1,400 jobs from an area that was already economically depressed when the plants closed, and that the closing threatens to further deplete the region’s scarce resources of skilled labor and tax revenue.
The closures have been particularly devastating for local towns like Cameron, which lost more than a quarter of its total workforce when the nearby plant shuttered.
Meanwhile, Missouri legislators and members of Congress have sought to answer the question of what sort of economic assistance the federal government can provide to rural communities affected by plant closures.
In response to the Tyson closures, Missouri’s Republican-controlled Congress delegation has proposed legislation that would create a program to provide extended unemployment benefits and retraining assistance to those affected by plant closures.
The legislation has the support of Missouri’s senior senator, Republican Roy Blunt, who claims the program would “help displaced workers get back to work as quickly as possible in a rapidly changing labor market.”
The proposed legislation also calls for increased federal spending on rural infrastructure projects in areas affected by plant closures, as well as incentives for new businesses to open in the region.
The closures in Missouri’s Ozarks region have also prompted countless conversations among local officials, business leaders, and labor advocates about how to better plan for economic shifts in the future in order to avoid similar closures.
From the formation of rural economic task forces to the development of business incubators that support the growth of small businesses, communities are working together to come up with creative solutions to the economic and workforce challenges created by plant closures.
As the Tyson Food closures in Missouri demonstrate, small rural communities are increasingly vulnerable to macroeconomic shocks and the economic dislocation that can accompany them. Local governments, legislators, and community members are continuing to explore innovative ways to protect their communities – and their futures – in the face of such disruption.