Did you know that people in St. Joseph refer to Kansas City International Airport as St. Joseph International Airport?
The joke is funny because it’s true. St. Joseph, which is just 35 minutes from Kansas City, is actually closer to the airport than southern parts of its big brother.
But in truth, St. Joseph’s proximity to the airport and major highways—along with its small-town charm—make this Missouri city, population 76,780, a successful home to a number of large companies.
To learn more about why this riverfront city has a thriving economy, we interviewed leaders of four companies with large local footprints about why they like to do business in St. Joseph.
Stet Schanze has seen the city grow from both the public and the private perspective. Prior to joining Gray Manufacturing, which produces and sells lifting equipment, Schanze spent six years as city manager of St. Joseph. Schanze has now been president of Gray for more than 15 years.
We are a third-generation, privately held family company, and our company was founded back in 1952 by people who had lived all their lives in St. Joseph.
It’s definitely our workers and our team members. I have been in St. Joseph now for 29 years working in a variety of public and private places of employment, and I think historically going back to when St. Joseph was created, it has always had the reputation of a town where if you were willing to work hard and roll up your sleeves, you could find work. I think the community has a good reputation for having a very sound work ethic.
At Gray, we work quite a bit of overtime, and our employees don’t hesitate at all.
I’m not knocking Kansas City—it’s nice to go visit—but some folks may like to operate a business in a little bit smaller of a community, and you can always go visit the big city if you need to. We have a very good quality of life here and are close to outdoor opportunities, like hunting and fishing and our hike and bike trails. We have a symphony; we have museums. It’s perhaps a little slower pace than a major metropolitan area, and I think that’s attractive to certain people looking for a unique quality of life.
Gray Manufacturing is not the only large family-owned business in St. Joseph.
Scott Albers met his wife, Ashley, in a bar after her sister’s wedding. Her parents, Greg and Janna, had started Nor-Am, a cold storage company, in 1999 in northwest Iowa. After the company purchased the assets of a rival, Artesian Ice & Cold Storage, which was located in St. Joseph, in 2009, Scott and Ashley moved to Missouri and both eventually started working for Nor-Am. Ashley serves as director of human resources and Scott is vice president of operations.
Being that we are a public refrigerated warehouse serving the frozen, fresh, and dry needs of our customers, we have a great understanding of the protein industry. We are strategically located in St. Joseph to be able to offer our services to those customers, whether it be storing, exporting, or value-added services.
Here in the Midwest, we are at a spot where we can raise a crop or grow livestock more efficiently than anywhere in the world, and the closer we are to those production facilities, the better off we are.
St. Joseph is a great location. We are right off Interstate 29 for north and south transit, and Missouri Highway 36 is a great regional highway system. We’re not far from Interstate 70 to the south, so trucks can get in and out of St. Joseph very easily. Trucking has become harder and harder to find, so the better your location, the better off you will be.
The life sciences and pet food industries are strong in this area and so are the protein guys, so that cluster being here bodes very well for businesses in our industry. One customer is Triumph Foods here in town. They are a pork processing facility, and when you are in the same town, our customer is probably not going to put product on a truck and ship it another 100 miles to the next cold storage of a different company.
Speaking of Triumph Foods, its president and CEO, Mark Campbell, said he appreciates his company’s connections not only to businesses like Nor-Am, but also to St. Joseph’s rich agricultural heritage. He knows the history of the city, how more than 120 years ago, farmers and members of other industries joined together in the Stockyards Industrial District to sell food and form the core of St. Joseph. Companies such as Triumph continue to do business in the district today.
Today, the old Stockyards Industrial District is home to agricultural enterprises that work together. At Triumph Foods, our pork processing facility produces products for cold storage, ingredients for pet food companies like Nestle and BHJ, pork bellies for bacon producers like Daily’s, and pork fat for biodiesel companies like High Plains Biodiesel and numerous service partners in the plumbing, electrical, and mechanical trades all located here in St. Joseph. These are synergistic relationships, and these companies all have great people that both attracted and sustain our presence here.
We are fortunate to have a dedicated workforce and management team of more than 2,500 people who enable Triumph Foods to produce food for customers here at home and around the world. Producing food is hard work and our customers are very discriminating, so our team’s capability and success in producing the highest quality, safest food here in St. Joseph is something we are very proud to highlight.
St. Joseph has successful and committed city, county, and community leaders focused on ensuring investment in, and support of, infrastructure to keep St. Joseph vibrant and growing for years to come.
Hillyard, a manufacturer of cleaning supplies and products to coat and maintain wood sports floors, was founded in 1907 in St. Joseph. Today, it is one of the city’s oldest family-owned companies. In some ways, it acts as a bridge between the city’s impressive history as a place where companies can thrive and its future centered around a fast-growing downtown. Hillyard plans to build a new manufacturing and distribution facility on 25 acres just north of downtown. Meanwhile, its historic properties downtown will continue to dot a landscape filled with striking architecture, says Brett Carolus, Hillyard vice president and chief administrative officer.
I think the architecture, the history, the sense of community. Every city in the country has strip malls and development on the outskirts of town, but with the old downtown buildings, the character is unique and I think they are really the heart of our community. There has been some nice momentum downtown the last five to 10 years, and I think people are starting to appreciate what we have.
I think it’s definitely a positive being able to pick up the phone and call the Chamber directly or any of our city and county officials. The city and county are excited about the investment and are helping us utilize any tools available to help make it a feasible project for us. If we were in a bigger city, I don’t know if we would get the local support that we have gotten.