I have written much about how Bourbon County compares with other SEK counties, and we come out looking pretty good. What about Vernon County, Missouri? Every morning, we get quite an influx of commuters that cross the state line for work, taking advantage of their low property tax rates and Kansas income tax rates. It is worth looking at the newly issued U.S. Census data to see how we stack up.
Vernon County (VC) is quite a bit larger than Bourbon County (BB) in geography and population, by about 30% in area and 37% in the number of residents. In the last 10 years, VC contracted by 6.9% to 19,707 people; BB lost 5.4% of our population, which now sits at 14,360. The residents of VC represent less diversity than BB at 93.6% white versus 89.7%. BB has more people over 65 and under the age of 18, while VC has a slightly higher percentage of female residents.
Housing is an interesting contrast. The average value of a home in VC is $98,300 compared to $82,700 in BB; interestingly, the average monthly cost to own a home in VC is $152 lower than in BB. One can only assume that while a VC resident pays more for their mortgage, they pay a much lower price for real estate taxes. Monthly rental costs were about the same, but VC had 11 building permits issued in 2020 compared to one in BB (not all new constructions have required permitting). As I discussed in a previous column, VC has a decided housing advantage.
Business activity statistics are about the same, but one noticeable negative trend was pronounced in BB; in recent years, we lost 8.6% of our workforce compared to 2.2% for VC. While retail is stronger in VC, BB has a decided manufacturing edge. Computers in households and households with broadband access are at much higher percentages in VC.
While personal income statistics are similar in both counties, and both counties rank above the national average in poverty statistics, the numbers are worse for VC: 17.1% compared to 15.6%. Also higher than the national average is the number of individuals without health insurance in the two counties; that percentage is 15.5% for VC, 10.8% for BB.
The similarities between the two counties are striking, but VC has a decided advantage where it counts: housing. This is strongly indicated by building permits, home prices, lower monthly cost of home ownership, retail sales, and workforce retention.
What can we do? We cannot close the gap all at once, but we can chip away at the factors that exacerbate the difference. Lowering real estate taxes, incentivizing new construction, improving our infrastructure, and facilitating broadband access over time will help.
Economic development is a multi-front challenge because of stiff competitors like VC, so we have to keep making progress on all fields of the battle.