They don't call Kirksville the "Smartest City in Rural America" without reason. Where else in the country can you find a town of 17,519 people where you can receive a high-quality education from preschool through doctoral degree?
Kirksville, in Upstate Missouri, offers best-in-class educational resources and more. From award-winning grade schools to Truman University, the premier liberal arts and sciences university in Missouri, Kirksville is known nationwide as the place where talented students go to get even smarter.
"We have a dental school and medical school here," says Carolyn Chrisman, executive director of Kirksville Regional Economic Development Inc. "We focus on identifying where our workers are at and if they are underemployed and need more training."
Recently, the Kraft Heinz plant in town expanded from 180,000 sq. ft. to 450,000 sq. ft. and saw its workforce go from 500 to 900 as part of a $250-million capital investment. Supplying the workforce to the sole producer of bologna in North America is a critical job for REDI and the various educational and training institutions in town, notes Chrisman.
"We've seen retail, hospitality and the commercial sectors boom," she adds. "Hobby Lobby, Menard's, Marshall's and Arby's are opening here, and we have a very steady manufacturing sector that is constantly adding jobs. Western's Smokehouse, which produces 250,000 meat sticks a day, recently added 25,000 sq. ft. and grew its workforce from 30 to 100."
The greater Hannibal/Kirksville region will soon see the addition of a 400-megawatt wind farm, which will create a need for more wind energy technicians in the northern part of Adair County, says Chrisman. "They will start construction later this year."
The other principal city in this region of Missouri is Hannibal, a community of 17,808 people along the Mississippi River about 100 miles northwest of St. Louis. Nicknamed "America's Hometown" and incorporated in 1845, Hannibal is famous for being the boyhood home of renowned American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain).
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 and continues to welcome visitors from around the world each year. But tourism is not the only strong suit of Hannibal. The community offers a robust, diversified economy that includes manufacturing, health care and I.T. Notable employers in Hannibal are BASF Chemical Corp., General Mills, Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co. and Swiss Colony.
Low taxes, proximity to Interstate 72 and other major highways, and an abundance of local resources make Hannibal an attractive destination for many businesses.
"Our best-kept secret is our quality of life," says Chrisman. "Missouri State Park is a mile from town and has some of the best fishing, camping, kayaking and trails in the state."