How One Missouri Town Has Weathered Recession

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Democrat Dale Bagley is the mayor of Macon, Mo., and he was at the ethanol plant that President Obama toured Wednesday. Melissa Block talks to the mayor about the president's visit — and how his city has weathered the recession.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From Washington now to the Midwest, where President Obama continued a three-state tour promoting both is financial regulatory overhaul, as well as changes to the nations energy policy. Among his stops, Poet Bio-refining(ph), a company that produces fuel from corn.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

When the president visited the ethanol plant in Macon, Missouri today, he was joined by the mayor of Macon, Dale Bagley. He is a Democrat and he joins us from city hall to talk a bit about the economic outlook there. Welcome to the program.

Mayor DALE BAGLEY (Macon, Missouri): Very glad to be here.

BLOCK: And Mayor Bagley, how many people are there in Macon?

Mayor BAGLEY: There's about 5,600 people.

BLOCK: Okay. And you're in the northeastern part of the state. What's the county unemployment like these days?

Mayor BAGLEY: Actually, it varies. It's around seven to eight percent. We're below the national average, I think.

BLOCK: So in the last year and a half or so, have you been seeing layoffs? Have people been losing their jobs?

Mayor BAGLEY: Well, if you're talking about the city of Macon, absolutely not. We're actually growing. We're adding jobs to different things. We're in the process of expanding some of the facilities that are already here. We've got a welding manufacturing company. And we've got the fishing reel company called Ardent that is headquartered here and they're expanding a little bit.

We're looking at several million dollar improvement in our ConAgra plant that's going to add more lines to their facility here. So I think and actually the way the economy is going in Macon, its doing pretty good.

BLOCK: Have you been hearing much worry, fear about where the country is headed?

Mayor BAGLEY: Oh, yes. Let me point out, Macon is not immune from folks that are not happy with the way things are going. There's a lot of folks in the area that are concerned about, like, for example, the health care bill and some of the other things like that. And they have a right to be concerned about that. These are issues that need to be dealt with, and I wish that they could be dealt with cooperatively and people could share ideas and then come to a consensus to solve these problems.

BLOCK: You know, Mayor Bagley, I was talking yesterday with a woman who owns a coffee shop in Iowa, one of the towns the president visited yesterday. And she said that the way she can get a sense of where the economy is, is whether people coming into her coffee shop are ordering dessert, whether they're coming in with big groups again.

And she says she can tell that things are looking up a little bit based on what she sees right there in her bakery and coffee shop. I wonder what you look to as sort of local economic indicators, just really small scale things that you look to and say, oh, things are going downhill or things are turning around a little bit.

Mayor BAGLEY: I think to some extent the number of people that go out to eat, the number of folks that will take their family and go to a restaurant and enjoy a night out, having dinner and that sort of thing. Because whenever things are tight, people stay home and they eat what they have in their freezer, in their refrigerator and stuff like that.

But as they feel more confident, honestly, around Macon, seems to me like most of the folks, there's some people that are having trouble finding jobs. And I think a lot of it has to do with what kind of job training and skills they have. And, also, I'll admit, there's some job needs that are here. But I think right now I see increasing confidence in the future.

People are buying houses, considering remodeling, you know, updating their homes. I talked to a contractor the other day and he said that he had about 50 people on the list that he was looking to do work for. So, I figure that's a pretty - a pretty good indication that people are having more confidence in the economy.

See, because I'm the mayor, I have an insight that you don't really have as a general citizen 'cause I look at our sales tax numbers, the amount of sales tax we collect, and we're right at or just a little bit below what we normally collect in sales tax in the past. But not we're our sales tax has been pretty solid for the whole time. So, Macon has been, like I said, very blessed.

BLOCK: Well, Mayor Bagley, if I hear you right, you're saying you seem to be saying that the recession has largely passed Macon, Missouri by. Is that right?

Mayor BAGLEY: Well, I think it's passed us by. You know, let me tell you where it's hurt us. I also work at Edward Jones Investment Company. And so, there's lots of folks in town that have 401ks and all kinds of other investments that are like that, retirement benefits that are based on their stock portfolio and things like that.

So what happens is that those people suffered a tremendous displacement because they were used to having so much money, you know, earning so much money off of their investments that when this happened, you know how drastically the stock market dropped, it put a big kink in their retirement plans. And so, some of them had to go back to work, you know, just had to cut back in their lifestyles and stuff like that.

So, Macon has a lot of retired people in it, so therefore we had a lot of folks that were looking at their retirement benefits, seeing them disappear very quickly.

BLOCK: Well, Mayor Bagley, good to talk to you, thanks very much.

Mayor BAGLEY: Okay, thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Dale Bagley. He's the mayor of Macon, Missouri.

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