Helping Hannibal

Columbia College senior and business major recommends rural outsourcing.

Downtown Hannibal, Missouri. Photo by Wei O'Connell

Hannibal, Mo., is billed as "America's Hometown." It's the boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), and his home still stands complete with a white-washed fence and Becky Thatcher's house across the street, all sitting quietly by the Mississippi River.

Maybe too quietly.

Tourism along a few blocks of Main Street brings in revenue, but the recession hit the city hard as many manufacturing, construction and service firms and jobs evaporated. Hannibal's median income in 2008 was $36,151, well below the Missouri average of $46,867, and 14 percent of its residents are below the poverty line. Perhaps worst of all, Hannibal's best and brightest graduate from area high schools or colleges and don't return.

This brain drain is not unique to Hannibal, of course. It's being repeated in cities and rural areas state- and nationwide.

Enter rural outsourcing. Also known as near-shoring or on-shoring, rural sourcing seeks to establish tech jobs in smaller cities and rural areas to take advantage of the lower cost of doing business and available workforce. Also enter Jodie Schultz, a senior who will be graduating in May with a bachelor's degree in business with a major in accounting.

Jodie Schultz

Schultz, from tiny Ewing, Mo., was in a workforce planning and development class taught by Dr. Sean Siebert. Siebert proposed that his students investigate rural sourcing; Schultz then meticulously researched and wrote a rural sourcing proposal for Hannibal. Schultz thought rural outsourcing would be a good fit with Hannibal with its trained industrial workforce, two colleges and a vocational technical school.

Read Schultz's paper

Schultz says she chose Hannibal because it's close to her hometown.

"I thought rural sourcing was a great plan," she says, "and I wanted to help out an area close to where I live… I know how hard it is to keep a business open and if you're a worker, not have to travel 30, 40 minutes to a job." She also has many relatives who have lived and worked in the area.

Schultz went on to send her paper to Terry R. Sampson, executive director of the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce. Sampson says he was impressed.

"I thought it was a well-written, thoughtful paper. It made a lot of sense to me. With our demographics, we have an ideal job market for these types of companies. Maybe we can do it cheaper than can be done overseas. It's worth investigating." Sampson says he's also seeking to turn a building in Hannibal into a certified small business incubator.

Rural outsourcing is already established in Missouri. A company called Onshore Technology Services teaches software development skills in a bootcamp format to former manufacturing workers in Macon, Lebanon and Joplin. Onshore has also cultivated a partnership with the state of Missouri and each of their technology centers is anchored by a career or technical school program and a state of Missouri Career Center.

Historic buildings in Hannibal, Missouri. Photo by Wei O'Connell
Hannibal has a career center, a vocational technical school and Hannibal LaGrange and MACC Hannibal Area Higher Education Center, a two-year community college. Hannibal also has numerous elegant historic buildings that would be well-suited to technology firms or business incubators, says Sampson.

Schultz first came to Columbia College on a softball scholarship, playing in a utility role, mostly outfield, where she earned a spot on the AMC Academic All-Conference team and the coach's award for 2008. "Coming from a small town, I just liked the scale of Columbia College," she says. "It was a good fit. I felt comfortable here."

She went on to win the Lois J. Erdman Award, awarded to a female business major who shows promise of academic success as well as financial need. Preference is given to students exemplifying entrepreneurial talent or spirit – which she definitely has. "I was lucky enough to get it," she says modestly.

Schultz had training for her Hannibal paper. For another class taught by Siebert, she helped complete an economic proposal for the city of Cuba, Mo., that focused on job creation. The group recommended an available structure be renovated into a destination hotel with a restaurant, gift shop, showroom and trolley to take folks to local caves and wineries; and the introduction of small business incubators.

Once she graduates, Schultz says she will go for a master's in accounting. She takes her studies very seriously: Before a recent holiday weekend, she said she would not be partying or going to movies but staying in her Cougar Village apartment studying for the GMAT.

And then? Back to Ewing?

"I love rural living," she says. 'My dad is a farmer." But, she says, Ewing has a population of about 400 and she doubts it could support an accountant.

Perhaps the Jodie Schultzes of this country won’t have to leave if rural outsourcing catches on.


Anonymous said...

This is awesome! My father's side of the family is from the Hannibal area and I still visit several times a year. I have worried about theis beautiful little town and am glad to see somebody helping!

Anonymous said...

My son & his family live in Hannibal, so I visit the town several times a year. They stayed in Hannibal after attending Hannibal LeGrange College, married and started a family, as do many other students.
Hannibal has recently received funding from several Historic Restoration grants, so they are doing well.
The poverty level across the US is 9.9%, so Hannibal is not doing bad by US Census standards. Jobs at some of their factories and construction companies pay $80,000.00 per year.
How much money is Columbia College going to take away from their economy by charging each attending resident tuition, yet not providing as many jobs for the residents who live there? Makes me wonder who is helping who?

Unknown said...

This is great. My wife is from Hannibal, and I am from Palmyra 10 miles down the road. Hannibal is definitely in need. It has slowly been going downhill for the last 10 years or so. A lot of the roads have not been repaved, buildings are falling apart. Any help Hannibal can get would be greatly appreciated by a lot of people.