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Community Profile: A Tale of Two Cities—Hannibal, Mo./Quincy, Ill.


Jeryldine Tully
Friday, October 1, 1999

When the new, four-lane, $50 million Mark Twain Memorial Bridge opens in September of 2000, it will further strengthen the ties that bind Hannibal, Mo. and Quincy, Ill.—the two towns that flank the section of the Mississippi River the bridge will cross. But while the towns are only 20 miles and a bridgespan apart, their economies—and their approach to economic development—differ substantially. Hannibal, blessed as the boyhood home of Mark Twain, has had a steady source of tourism revenue to bank on since its founding in 1819. Quincy, with no such trump card to play, has been forced to generate its own livelihood.

Quincy's Story

In 1978, Quincy formed the Great River Economic Development Foundation, a private, non-profit organization designed to retain existing businesses and attract new ones to the area. The organization, which gets its funding from public and private sources, was born out of necessity, according to its current president Jim Mentesti. That year, the area lost 3,500 jobs when the 990,000 square foot Motorola plant in town closed down. Three years later, Quincy suffered a second blow when the Electric Wheel plant also closed—taking with it another 1,500 jobs. The unemployment rate in Adams County, Ill., reflected these job losses, jumping from 5.5 percent in 1979 to 12.6 percent in 1982.

A year after the economic development foundation was created, the city broke ground on a 100-acre industrial park, which was funded through a city-wide bond issue, along with private donations. Today, the industrial park is filled to capacity with 20 different businesses. Meanwhile, the former Motorola plant has been turned into an "industrial mall" with eight to 10 companies taking from 1,200 to 400,000 square feet apiece. And the once-defunct Electric Wheel plant is up and running again as Titan International Inc. With roughly 1,000 workers, it's now the largest industrial employer in Quincy.

Apart from the industrial park and the economic development foundation, Quincy's two-decade turnaround can be credited to another factor: In 1991, the area received a huge boost when interstates 72 and 172, four-lane highways that connect Springfield, Ill., to Quincy, were completed after 30 years of work. Before that, Mentesti says, Quincy was regarded as a place where "you can't get there from here." Now, new plants and expansions of existing plants are springing up all over town:

In 1998, Wis-Pak Inc., a soft drink bottling corporation, opened a $20 million, 68,000 square foot plant, which will fill bottles and cans of Pepsi-Cola products for 32 Pepsi-Cola franchises throughout the Upper Midwest.

In June 1999, Archer-Daniels Midland Co., announced that it would spend $20 million to upgrade its Quincy-based soybean processing plant—a plant it purchased from locally owned Moorman's Manufacturing in January 1998.

Construction on a 69,000 square foot USPS postal sorting center, which will house more than 100 employees, was just begun, with operations expected to get under way in the fall of 2000.

Hannibal's Tale

Across the river in Hannibal, economic activity is considerably more subdued. Deanna David, economic development specialist for the Northeast Missouri Development Authority, admits that she's not actively recruiting new manufacturers "for the simple fact that it's going to hurt those who are already here." By hurt, David means steal employees away from. Like Quincy, Hannibal is having a difficult time finding qualified candidates to fill open positions at existing firms, let alone new ones. "It's a Catch-22," David explains. "We've almost gotten too big for our britches." Commercial development, however, is increasing and highly encouraged.

One project the city has undertaken is the development of a 120-acre industrial park on the west side of town. The city and the Board of Public Works purchased the property, but it is now controlled by the Missouri Department of Transportation, which is removing dirt from the site to use for the new bridge approaches. After the dirt is gone, the city will regain control of the land, which will have been cleared at MODOT's expense—a deal that would have made Mark Twain proud.

Until it's time to court residents for the new industrial park, David will continue to respond to—rather than solicit—inquiries about the region's development possibilities. A recent inquiry from the Swiss Colony Company resulted in a 14,000 square foot call center for holiday sales that employs from 50 to 400 people, who would otherwise be out of work during the area's off-season.

Her office is also busy trying to add another tier to the tourism industry—which is only the area's third-biggest revenue generator after manufacturing and agriculture—by joining with Clarksville, Mo., and Louisville, Mo., to create an artists' corridor along a 50-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. David has been fielding phone calls from artists nationwide who are considering making Hannibal their home. While David welcomes the boost in tourism dollars, she's even more enthused about the prospect of attracting artists' family members who may need a job.

Strength in Numbers

So whose approach to economic development is working? Many would predict that Quincy's approach—build it and they will come—should be more successful. Given today's robust economy, both cities are experiencing employment growth. But Hannibal is outperforming Quincy: Looking at figures from the counties that these two cities dominate, employment in Marion and Ralls counties, Mo., rose 11.2 percent from July 1992 to July 1999; employment in Adams County, Ill. rose by 8 percent.

Ultimately for both cities, a third approach—a regional one—may hold the key to their future. The appropriateness of this approach emerged six years ago when a natural disaster brought the communities together.

During the Flood of 1993, bridge approaches to the existing Mark Twain Memorial Bridge were washed out, forcing those who lived in one town, but worked in the other to take airplane shuttles to and from work or drive more than 200 miles north to Keokuk, Iowa, or south to St. Louis to cross the Mississippi. David says the flood pointed up just how interdependent the two towns are. "It really brought it home," she says. Mentesti of Quincy agrees, saying that the success the residents of both towns achieved battling the river made them realize that there is strength in numbers. This awareness of the need for working relationships across state boundaries led to the creation of the Tri-State Development Summit, the first of which was held in 1996.

At the yearly summit, representatives from Missouri, Illinois and Iowa meet to discuss four main topics: transportation, tourism, workforce development and river issues. Each of these topics is then addressed in greater detail throughout the year by a public/private, cross-state task force. Task force accomplishments thus far include:

  • The transportation group is making significant headway in getting U.S. Highway 36 upgraded to interstate status, linking it to I-72 in Illinois;
  • The tourism group just produced its first tri-state tourism brochure so that "when somebody comes to Hannibal, they just won't do Hannibal and go home," Mentesti says;
  • The workforce group brought together community college presidents from all three states to collaborate on an online computer science instructional program, which will be launched with a $210,000 private sector grant; and
  • The rivers group has pushed all three states to pass legislation for the first-ever, tri-state inter-modal port authority.

Arguably the greatest accomplishment of the group so far, though, is the new awareness it has created of the area as a distinct region—a region that can be packaged and promoted to businesses and tourists throughout the Midwest. Before, Mentesti explains, the view was that "St. Louis is St. Louis, Chicago is Chicago, Kansas City is Kansas City, and everybody else in between is a thing without an identity. We are a region now."

Hannibal/Quincy, by the numbers

Labor Force  
Unemployment Rate  
Per Capita Personal Income  
Top Three Employers
Diemakers, Inc.
Dura Automotive
Hannibal Regional Hospital
Blessing Hospital
Quincy Public Schools 950
Titan International 900

NOTES: Population statistics are for the cities of Quincy and Hannibal (July 1999). All other figures are for Adams County, Ill. and Marion County, Mo. (August 1999).