Op-Ed: Bringing Life Back to the Bootheel

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The Game-Changing Measure Passed in Special Session

By Lauren Hieger, Senate Majority Caucus Press Secretary

When Noranda closed last year, New Madrid and the surrounding areas saw 900 jobs leave. Since then, the economy in Southeast Missouri has been deeply crippled by the loss of its aluminum smelter production. The average household income has dropped $6,000 in New Madrid County. The 8th Congressional District is now the 11th poorest district in the country. Nine of the 10 poorest counties per capita income in the state are also in the 8th Congressional District. Families looking for work have been forced to leave the area or receive welfare. At some times, it seemed as if our area was never going to bounce back.

I know we are resilient, and with a little luck and patience, opportunity would again surface. About a month ago, an opportunity did arise. It’s one the governor and Legislature knew we could not wait to act until next January, and we seized on the chance to bring hundreds of jobs back to the Bootheel.

Not one, but two companies have shown interest in coming to Southeast Missouri and plan to put families back to work with high-paying jobs. But, to help get these companies to invest millions in the state, we had to pass legislation that would generate an affordable utility rate for these companies while adequately protecting consumers. House Bill 1 gives the Public Service Commission authority to approve certain special utility rates for an aluminum smelting facility or a steelworks facility that would help bring these investors to the state. This is the kind of bill Missouri really needs.

The New Madrid area is great for industrials. We already have the infrastructure available including roads to bring in raw materials and the aluminum smelter. We even have a trained workforce. The investors interested said they could potentially spend about $80 – $100 million in the state. That’s a game-changer, not only for us in the Bootheel, but for the whole state.

A lot of questions about how much this will cost other consumers have been asked. Some industrial companies that testified believe there will be no increase in the cost to consumers if a new facility is granted a discounted rate. They believe as long as the rates are set above incremental costs, there should be no effect on households. The bill we passed also ensures the PSC has the right to determine what is in the best interest of all ratepayers. It guarantees Ameren (the electrical corporation that plans to supply energy) will not gain or lose income by agreeing to the special rate. Electricity use is down. Anytime utility companies get new customers, it’s good for all customers because it spreads the fixed cost out among more customers.

This bill has the potential to create jobs but also includes adequate consumer protections. It would help bring a new facility to Missouri whose owners could invest millions of dollars in the Show-Me State. Extending special utility rates to these new employers would restore a significant number of high-paying jobs lost last year, something that is greatly needed in the Bootheel. I thank not only my colleagues in the Senate but the House members and the governor for their swift action to provide some potential relief to my constituents.

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