Blunt visits cabinet maker to talk jobs, economy, regional concerns

By: 
Dave Marner
Managing Editor

“Broadband, insurance and transportation — if I can solve those three things, we will be in good shape,” said Sen. Roy Blunt following a June 21 discussion on jobs and economy at Green Cabinet Shop in Belle.

Blunt visited with shop owners Burley and Tammy Green, Dr. Patrick Call of Maries R-2 schools, Bonnie Prigge, executive director of Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), Victor Stratman, Maries County presiding commissioner, shop employees, and press.

Blunt began his visit with a tour from the Greens. Burley Green explained that his business was first a hobby — he was refinishing old chairs and people wanted him to refinish their furniture. Eventually, he decided there must be a better way, and began building his own furniture.

“We build custom bathrooms, kitchens, prefinishing molds, doors — pretty well complete the project from start to finish,” Green explained. “ We try to use as much American made as we can — no fillers, no particle board — just heavy-duty, solid stuff.”

In the 1990s, Green Cabinets had 12 employees and custom built 100 kitchens a year, cranking out work. Thanks to box stores that sell prefinished cabinets, they now have five employees instead of 12 and only do custom work.

Green said a big problem he has today is finding skilled workers.

“Kids in high school could care less,” Green said, adding that when he graduated in the 1970s, building trades classes ensured those like him could leave high school and enter a trade.

Call said Belle High School has a welding program and a building trades program, but kids don’t seem interested.

“We struggle to keep kids in the building trades classes,” he said. “We tell kids they don’t have to go to college to get a great job. They will make more than a teacher with a masters degree in the first year by going into a trade.”

Prigge added that through the scholarship foundation, she knows many in the A+ Program go to State Tech in Linn.

“When I lose a competitor in this business, no one is taking their place,” Green countered. “Something has to be done to save this trade; we are on borrowed time.”

Blunt asked if Belle and the surrounding areas had broadband. Call said the schools do ok because Kingsford Charcoal is nearby and has to have good quality internet.

“Thirty-one percent of rural Missouri still doesn’t have access to high speed internet,” Blunt said.

Prigge said cooperatives maybe the link. Blunt said the state is receiving a good portion of federal money to help with the upgrades, about $275 million. The state has contributed $5 million to the project.

“It’s important communities like this stay and grow,” Blunt said.

Focusing from a work standpoint, Blunt said it is important employees that live in rural areas have internet. Prigge added the work-from-home perspective, it is important to have the internet speed and capability to grow.

“People want to live where the principal knows where kids should be after school at the end of the day,” Blunt said in defense of rural areas. “That is becoming very appealing to many.”

“But they need to know kids can do their homework after they get home, too,” Prigge said.

Blunt asked how affordable health care is in the area.

“It’s unsustainable,” Green said. “If I have a new hire, they are not worried about pay, but the insurance. They will drive 100 miles to get the benefits.”

Call said the school recently switched health care consortium, but they are lucky that they are able to band together with other schools to get a better rate.

“Teachers will have about a $1,500 deductible with a $475 monthly payment,” Call said.

While the cabinet business isn’t large enough in the area for the Greens to do something similar, Blunt suggested simply a small business consortium.

Wrapping it up, Prigge asked Blunt about the state of a transportation bill. 

“Another highway bill comes out next year,” he said. “I endorsed a highway tax last time, but the more people voted, the less popular it got.”

Blunt said the transportation issue is truly a national issue.

Blunt also visited with Osage County officials at Play-Mor Trailers in Freeburg. See MariesCountyAdvocate.com for that story.