A new report finds economic growth across the state of Missouri has been uneven over the past two decades. Professor Joe Haslag, the Kenneth Lay Chair in Economics at MU, examined data from the four largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in the state—St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia—and found the Columbia MSA is the only one that recorded above-national-average economic growth. His report finds the Columbia MSA has been the fastest growing metropolitan area in Missouri since 2001 and credits the expansion to a combination of private companies and public enterprises. Haslag’s report indicates the state economy as a whole is growing slower than the rest of the country, but he says the Columbia economy stands out as the bright spot in Missouri.
“The next question is, what is driving economic growth in Columbia?” Haslag asks. “I looked at the 10 biggest employers and their contributions to employment growth over the last decade, and then broke it into the four biggest contributors to employment: Veterans United Home Loans, the University of Missouri, University Hospitals and Clinics, and Columbia Public Schools.”
Haslag says Veterans United Home Loans accounted for one of five new jobs in the Columbia MSA during the last decade, while the university and its health care arm contributed one of every nine new jobs and Columbia Public Schools was responsible for one of every 20 new jobs.
Veterans United Home Loans started in Columbia in 2002 with four employees; it now employs nearly 1,800 people. The company was founded by Brant Bukowsky, BS ED ’00, and his brother Brock, BS ED ’96.
“Our owners, Brock and Brant Bukowsky, both attended the University of Missouri,” says Greg Steinhoff of Veterans United Home Loans. “We have firm roots in the community and are proud to call it home. The University of Missouri, along with the other nearby colleges and universities, are a great source of interns and employees. Columbia is unique in that while it’s not a metro area, it has a deep supply of highly trained and educated talent.”
Haslag identified the other large employers in the community as City of Columbia government, the Truman VA Hospital, Boone Hospital Center, Missouri Book Services, State Farm Insurance, and Shelter Insurance. But he says Veterans United Home Loans has been the largest driver of growth locally.
“What I was trying to look at is, what does the trajectory of growth look like? And the part that surprised me is how much that trajectory has depended on this one company,” Haslag says.
The report’s executive summary states, “Looking forward, it is the basic research and human capital investment provided by the largest public enterprises that are important for future private companies to maintain, or even raise, the region’s economic trajectory.”
Haslag says the university has become a pipeline for talent for large private employers such as Veterans United Home Loans, and he sees the beginnings of real partnerships between the two entities in programs such as the company’s Capital Markets Internship program.
“I think it’s always encouraging that you’ve got a large, stable employer like the university that spins off large, growing private entities,” Haslag says. “It doesn’t hurt that MU has a Nobel Laureate, which makes MU a more serious place than it was before the announcement, and that makes it easier for large companies to recruit good talent.”