Two energetic St. James High School students addressed the Phelps County Commission meeting held last week at City Hall. They couldn’t contain their excitement as thoughts poured out in rapid fire succession. The enthusiasm could be refreshing and a bit contagious.

Two energetic St. James High School students addressed the Phelps County Commission meeting held last week at City Hall. They couldn’t contain their excitement as thoughts poured out in rapid fire succession. The enthusiasm could be refreshing and a bit contagious.

Benjy Daniel and Myla Picker, 17 and 16 years-old respectively,  wanted to talk about St. James and to share a vision that taps into their age group’s unbridled enthusiasm for making St. James an awesome place to live and work.
“We really want to get students involved with community betterment,” started Benjy. I feel there’s a need in St. James to grow this city, but to keep the small city feel of it—the community feel.”
Myla said, “It really is about the [level of] involvement and the communication.” She said they didn’t know about the current Community Betterment project that has kept the city leaders and volunteers busy the past couple of years before they started walking the same road towards community improvement.
“We think that by informing the clubs at the high school, we can get everybody involved at some level,” said Myla. She mentioned she has been talking to different businesses about starting business improvement districts here and noted some business owners weren’t familiar with the concept, but seemed willing to listen.

I don’t plan on living my whole life in St. James,” said Benjy. He explained his plans to attend Missouri S&T and major in business. “I’m an entrepreneur—I buy and sell on consignment at Mary Ann’s in Rolla. So I want to carry that out with my own antique and resell business. I never wanted to live in St. James to run a business because there’s not much economic opportunity in terms of a profit margin—especially for new businesses—and that’s what we need here, are new businesses.”

His eye is set on St. Robert, near the Fort with a strong and somewhat transient population base that he sees as future customers. “Everybody needs a piece of furniture and later, they’ll want to get rid of it,” he says. “But what if I don’t feel I have to go to St. Robert? What if I can get that same feeling in St. James?”

Benjy continued with his vision. “I don’t want to see people driving down Main Street—I want to see people walking down Main Street.” The idea, he said, is people need reasons to stop and smell the roses. If they’re driving by, they’re missing things they need to see, touch, smell and converse about with other residents and town visitors. He says his vision grows with each and every conversation he has with city leaders.
“I was talking with Deb Parton and she said St. James has between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors going to the wineries and to Maramec Spring every single year,” he notes.
“What can we do to get them to stop? I thought to myself, we need to draw more investors in and new businesses that are going to stay open later, where we have nice sidewalks and maybe some music. But what will make these investors want to come in? What can we do to interest new businesses to come to St. James?

He says the starting point is to make the town look better—not that he thinks the town doesn’t look good. He even has savings set aside for community betterment projects because he believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is. He’s also all about sweat equity. After a meeting with Community Betterment head Robert Tesaro, he started thinking about a starting point.

“We have lots of mulch over at the Industrial Park,” he says. “That’s something that everyone could use. How hard would it be to mulch an area, like around City Hall, where that grass area and bench is and put in some nice flowers, shrubs or a tree and just continue to do that throughout St. James?

He knows the importance of getting input for a St. James vision and the power of what is known today as “crowd sourcing” for diversity of thought.
“We need to somehow develop that interest in the community,” he says.

Myla agrees. “When we discuss the numbers of visitors at the wineries, we’ve mentioned [the need for] better advertising for the businesses in our downtown,” she adds. “We want them to get more involved in the community too.” She shares an experience about a town in Oregon where she did a medical apprenticeship. “We have a farmers market, but it’s not as big or as beautiful as their’s was and the population [of the town] was smaller than ours,” she says.
“The businesses help sponsor and help out with events every single weekend and week nights, too.
I went to a concert that was hosted by a local bank and a big crafts show that was hosted by a local crafts shop. We really think that this will create a community feel and draw people out of their homes to get more involved.”

Benjy says St. James needs more shopping options, but he doesn’t feel St. James needs a big box store like Wal-Mart, even though he probably acknowledges the jobs the Walmart Distribution Center provides. After talking with Mr. Tesaro, he also sees the need for a city brand.
“We don’t have anything that makes us, us,” he explains. Myla offered the canoe installation in a nearby town that represents the town’s identity.

St. James has big plans for the future, some of which are still being made. To steer these young community leaders towards their next step, Commissioner Larry Stratman suggested Benjy and Myla attend the new tourism group meeting the first Monday in May at Sybil’s restaurant. According to Stratman, there will be a roundtable made up of members of the business community that already have a vested interest in the community. Excited about the alignment of plans to obtain this new future, these students feel it will be a great first step to get younger St. James residents involved.