BAXTER SPRINGS - Development of the Interstate 44 corridor in Cherokee County is essential to economic development in the county - and would be beneficial to the entire region.

That was the message which came out of a meeting attended by officials from both Cherokee County and Joplin, Mo. Thursday morning at Angels on the Route in Baxter Springs.

"The only part of Cherokee County with no water is the Interstate 44 corridor and it's probably the best area for growth," said Cherokee County Commissioner Richard Hilderbrand, whose district includes the corridor. "But you have to have infrastructure."

Hilderbrand organized the meeting in order to solicit ideas on what needed to be done to develop the area near Downstream Casino.

Hilderbrand said there was an engineering study done to bring water and sewer to the area from Baxter Springs but the cost, at $16 million, was prohibitive.

Currently, just over the border in Missouri there are water lines from Missouri American Water Company and sewer from a private line at Downstream Casino to the Joplin Sewer system.

Joplin will be annexing the area later this year.

Rob O'Brian with the Joplin Chamber of Commerce and Joplin Regional Development Partnership, of which Cherokee County is a member, said the partnership has been looking at the problem for a while.

"Early on we had discussions about opportunities in Cherokee County," he said. "The discussion was how do we link this corner to I-44."

O'Brian noted that companies who are seeking to relocate look at access to transportation heavily and at existing infrastructure.

Hilderbrand said there had been inquiries in the past by businesses wishing to locate in the area, but that the lack of existing water and sewer had caused them to look elsewhere.

Joplin Public Works Director David Hertzberg noted the infrastructure doesn't have have to all be built, but if it's "stubbed" in place - meaning it can easily be expanded to a new building - its easier for companies wishing to relocate.

O'Brian agreed.

"You don't have to put it all in at once, but you do have to have an agreement to make it easily accessible." he said. "You don't spend money willy-nilly but you do want to be in a position to expand it in a reasonable time frame. You can leverage a lot of programs out there."

The general consensus was what is needed is a light industrial park, which would include warehouses and light manufacturing, as well as possible retail businesses."

"Some of the discussion for the county is; 'what do you want to see in that area?'" O'Brian said.

Baxter Springs Mayor Jenifer Bingham noted Baxter has recently lost a major employer and is very interested in seeing development along the I-44 corridor.

Hilderbrand said that for the county to grow, it will require communities in the county to work together rather than to act as individual islands.

"We have to have the vision," he said. "If we keep sitting back and waiting for something to happen it's never going to happen."

Hilderbrand said there would be further meetings at a smaller scale to take a closer look at creating a development plan for the area.