The Show-Me State is not immune from the economic impact of COVID-19. Symptoms include a $2.2 billion loss in tourism revenue, the largest employment decrease in 30 years, and a staggering unemployment rate of 9.7 percent according to the Department of Economic Development. As the state and country begin to open up, many are left wondering how Missouri will avoid a catastrophic recession.
Enter the Grain Belt Express. The developer of this clean energy infrastructure project has begun sending letters to landowners about the financial compensation they’re entitled to. Soon, rural Missourians will start to receive some of the more than $20 million that this project will pay to landowners over its life.
However, contributing landowners aren’t the only Missourians who stand to benefit from the Grain Belt Express Transmission Line. Local energy suppliers will have the opportunity to use the more affordable electricity and pass the savings onto their customers. This will lower utility bills by more than $12 million every single year.
The Grain Belt Express will also put a serious dent in the staggering unemployment rate by hiring 1,500 Missourians to work on the transmission line. While most infrastructure projects demand massive tax breaks in return for this level of job creation, the Grain Belt Express hasn’t asked for a single state incentive. In fact, it will inject more than $7 million into local communities through taxes.
Economic stimulation on this scale is quite rare, but it should come as no surprise. Under new ownership by U.S.-based Invenergy, the Grain Belt Express has become much more than a means of transferring clean, renewable energy across the state. It also includes a plan to bring broadband internet to communities in need.
Today, over 40 percent of counties in Missouri are without improved health care, education, business, communication, and entertainment because they lack broadband. Grain Belt Express aims to bridge the so-called “digital divide.”
All in all, this project represents a $500 million investment in the Show-Me State when we need it most. It’s quite possible that with its help we will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger than ever before. Despite the many challenges we face as a state, I’m optimistic about the opportunities bestowed upon Missouri and the future we’ll build together.
Lee Barker is the former city administrator for Higginsville.