Betterment program may make a comeback in Richmond

There’s been a lot of discussion around Richmond the last several months about economic development and planning, but not much of action.
An economic development committee that was formed by the chamber last year struggled to get off the ground. In August, the group met and realized that the committee needed to refocus.
Now the refocused committee is looking for a direction to get started and the Missouri Community Betterment Program may be the catalyst that gets progress moving forward.
The MCB program is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and has been a part of Richmond development in the past, most recently as four years ago.
Richmond City Councilman Jason Berning arranged an informational meeting with MCB director Jan Simon last month at city hall, that was sparsely attended by some council members, business owners and community leaders, to see if the program could be resurrected in Richmond. Berning said he arranged the meeting because he believes the program could help the economic development committee after hearing a similar presentation in Jefferson City earlier this year.
“I came away from that day really encouraged, thinking that a lot of the programs that are available in the state are programs we can really take advantage of,” Berning said to the group that had gathered for the meeting. “There are a lot of neat things we can do. It seems like the size of our city and the needs that we have and the fact that we’re rural we can really take advantage of some things like grants.”
Berning said other people he talked to encouraged him that Richmond was in a prime position for growth. Berning also said Richmond has proved that it can move planning and projects forward.
“I’m overly impressed with the downtown revitalization and I had nothing to do with it,” Berning said.
Simon also told the group that she and her husband were impressed with Richmond from just driving around town for a few minutes.
The MCB program awards cities cash prizes for projects that are planned and completed that improve the overall quality of life in the community. Simon said it is up to the community to determine that.
“We want you to improve the quality of life in your community, whatever you determine that to be,” she said. “We recognize the communities that participate in our program and we reward the ones that excel.”
Each community at the end of the year, which is June 30, submitted a scrapbook of projects the community planned and completed or nearly completed. A group of judges visits the town, at which time the city has a chance to present their case. Simon said even if a city does not win, it still is worth it to enter the contest.
“We feel like it shows that you are progressing in your community and that you have your act together, and you know where you’re going and what you’re doing,” she said.
Tom Williamson is a member of the economic development committee and was chamber president in the early 1990s when the city was entering the contest on a regular basis. He said the city eventually dropped out of the program because the city was just entering the contest for the sake of entering it.
“At that time it was common practice that every year we entered the competition,” Williamson said. “It had been some time at that point that there had ever been a planning process or community wide involvement. It became a routine.
“We never won the competition because we never had much organization, or much planning or cohesion behind it,” Williamson added. “We decided that all we were doing was going through the motions of putting together a book for a competition that we didn’t have a prayer of winning.”
Williamson is not down on the program at all, however. He thinks the new economic development committee should have a heavy hand in any future competitions and believes the city has enough projects going on right now to compete.
As recently as a few years ago, the program was again resurrected in Richmond when the group that restored the Farris Theatre started getting back into the program.
Rob Swafford, who was heavily involved in the Farris project and the MCB program, said it was good to get into the program to see how other cities are doing things.
“It gets you and your town in line with other towns. You can see what’s going on in other towns across the state,” Swafford said. “It exposes community leaders to what like sized communities are doing well in other parts of the state.”
Swafford said the city could win the competition if every group in the city is pulling the same direction.
“You get a group together and you think about, ‘What do we got?’ And it forces you to think about what you have done,” he said. “It takes a little bit of everybody involved in community betterment to make it work. It’s not something you can just throw on. It’s got to be a multi-pronged approach.”
Chamber President Scott Marshall said the committee is currently putting together a survey to determine which direction the area needs to move.

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