Richardson Responds to the Post-Dispatch
In his July 7th article, Jim Doyle of the St. Louis Post Dispatch attempts to point out what’s wrong with healthcare in Poplar Bluff. In doing so, he refers to the community I love and represent in the Missouri House of Representatives as a “faded factory town.” He goes on to call the new Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center “a refuge of sorts in a town that has been pummeled repeatedly by factory closings and layoffs.” The characterization of Poplar Bluff as a struggling community only held together by the presence of the hospital and the accompanying government assistance is, simply, wrong.
Mr. Doyle is correct – in that the challenges facing healthcare providers in Poplar Bluff and more generally in rural Missouri are real. However, the assertion that these challenges are the result of Missouri’s decision not to expand Medicaid as envisioned by ObamaCare is wrong. Overutilization of the emergency room, lack of access to primary care, and the increasing cost of care are all problems that existed prior to passage of the federal healthcare law. Further there is nothing that outright expansion of a broken entitlement program is going to do to magically fix those problems.
Most importantly, it is hardly fair to paint this vibrant, growing community as “a faded factory town.” Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center is clearly important to Poplar Bluff and the surrounding region. It is the area’s largest employer and we are justifiably proud of the new facility. However, Poplar Bluff is also home to a thriving manufacturing industry. International companies like Briggs and Stratton, Mid-continent Nail, and Gates Rubber Company call Poplar Bluff home. Briggs and Stratton recently invested millions in its Poplar Bluff facility to update and modernize its plant. Mid-Continent has consistently expanded its facility and is now one of the only remaining North American nail manufactures. The Gates Corporation has been in Poplar Bluff for three decades. The manufacturing industry in this area is anything but “faded.”
Further, Butler County is home to more 42,000 residents and is the retail shopping destination for an 8 county region. It is home to generational small businesses and big box stores alike – small businesses like Whitworth’s Jewelers who have the audacity to say “Wal-Mart is next to us.” It will soon be home to Menards, the third largest home improvement chain in the country, who just last week broke ground on a store that will anchor a new retail development.
Poplar Bluff has outstanding infrastructure. Infrastructure that exists, in large part, because this community made it happen. When Missouri didn’t have the money to complete the expansion of Highway 67, leaders didn’t sit back and wait on the State to help. The citizens of Poplar Bluff levied a tax on themselves to build a four lane highway connecting the region to Interstate 55. Not one foot of that highway is in the city limits.
Poplar Bluff has the fastest growing community college in the state with sites throughout the region. It has a thriving agricultural base and is a gateway to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.
Poplar Bluff has experienced ups and downs like any community but to call the town “faded” is wrong and is an insult to the thousands of hard working Missourians employed here. It is an insult to community leaders who decades ago had the vision to chart a course for this community and to those who have spent their time since then trying to achieve it.
There are those that just don’t understand rural America. They see small towns, not for what they are, but rather as some tattered and outdated Norman Rockwell poster of days that have long since passed. That view misses the mark. Places like Poplar Bluff and small towns across Missouri are growing, they are innovating, and working hard to remain competitive in an increasingly global economy. I’m proud to live here and couldn’t be more optimistic about our future.
State Representative 152nd District