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story.lead_photo.caption Gary Jongermann, left, speaks at the business round table event Monday afternoon. The Callaway Chamber of Commerce organized the meeting to discuss the current state of Callaway County. Photo by Adam Brake / Fulton Sun.

Employees in Callaway County opting to live elsewhere and commute to work was one of the problems discussed by a board of community leaders.

Fifteen of the county's biggest influencers on community development met Monday afternoon to discuss the current state of Callaway County. One of the consensus issues facing the county is the lack of housing, and inability to draw residents who choose to live in the county.

Bruce Hackmann, economic development director for the Callaway Chamber of Commerce, said the proximity to bigger cities is both a blessing, and a curse to the county.

"We have the ability to commute to two big cities, which is one of our biggest assets," he said. "Perhaps, it's also one of our biggest drawbacks, as well. We're making it too easy to let people move to Columbia or Jefferson City."

Callaway County market president with the Callaway Bank Rick Gohring said even those with special interest and investment in the community often chose to pass on having the county as their hometown.

"If we did a survey of companies here, many of the company leaders likely live in Columbia or Jefferson City," he said. "How do we get them to move here? We have a lot of people who spend a lot of time on the road commuting to or from Fulton."

Gohring said the proof of a lack in housing options is evident as he approves potential home buyers for loans, only to have them leave the county unsatisfied.

"The comment I hear is we have a lot of people who prequalify, but just can't find a property," he said. "Most of the growth the last couple of years has been in the county and not in Fulton."

The areas of the county which do exhibit growth are near the county's southern and western border, Hackmann said.

"The areas that are growing in Callaway County is Holts Summit and Millersburg," he said. "They're viewed as jumping off points for working in Jefferson City or Columbia."

Several officials in attendance Monday said there is trend of people who choose to commute to Fulton eventually finding jobs in Columbia or Jefferson City to cut the commute.

Jacque Cowherd, superintendent of Fulton Public Schools, said they have problems with relocating teachers quite often in the district.

"If (our teachers) live in Fulton or come from Fulton, we can assure they'll stay here," he said. "Once we get them into the community, they are in love with the community. If they don't live here, we struggle keeping them."

However, Fulton is home to several businesses which offer economic opportunities. Bill Plank of the Naught-Naught Agency said the businesses in Fulton are proof of the opportunities.

"We all, in our industries, have opportunities," he said. "We work here for a reason. There are things we have to offer, and we're here (today) to solve problems."

Tamara Fitzpatrick, executive director the Callaway Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber coordinated the round table to find out how community officials can improve the current state of the county.

"They're the movers and shakers of the community," she said. "We sent out an invite asking them to join us and we have questions to discuss what's happening with them and what's going on in the community."

Fitzpatrick said one of the keys to boosting the economy is creating a path for high school and college students to stay in the county.

"We really have to create an atmosphere where there are opportunities for students to stay here," she said. "We sat in this room in July and there were 100 jobs available in this community. We do have jobs here."

Troy Williams, CEO of Ovid Bell Press, said an important part of making positive changes to the community begins with focusing on the workforce.

"I think it's important that we look at the future of the workforce in Callaway County," he said. "We need to really look at the needs of the community, and look at recruiting."

Williams said, with some creative planning, Fulton is positioned to boom in the next few decades.

"What I see in Fulton reminds me a lot of Rolla in 1995," he said. "If people can see the future of the city, they'll be able to buy in, but they first need to be able to see it."

Gary Jungermann, presiding commissioner of Callaway County, said the first step towards making changes is talking.

"I'm glad we're having these conversations," he said. "We need to be able to determine what the future of Callaway County will look like."

Fitzpatrick hopes the chamber will be able to host more meetings like Monday's.

"My hope is to do this regularly, perhaps even quarterly," she said. "It's a great way to get their input and make the community better. We hope to get some action on things for us to work on collectively. This goes along with our strategic plan to make this county great."

Community leaders also had many positive comments about the county. Debbie LaRue of the Callaway Bank said Fulton offers many benefits to those looking to raise a family.

"It's a nice, safe environment," she said. "It's a welcoming place and it's a central location. I think we also have great school districts in our county."

Community leaders welcome any ideas from residents on how to make improvements, LaRue said.

"We are always open to ideas," she said. "We try to support the businesses and schools of the community. We keep our eyes and ears open to opportunities."

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