Stories of the Year: Ferguson fuels uncertainty for businesses, economy

Photos courtesy of Loavesofbread/ Flickr

The greatest significance of the events that unfolded this year in Ferguson was social. What transpired in the St. Louis suburb brought to the fore complicated and divisive issues including race, the role of law enforcement, and free speech.

But the moment the first storefront window was shattered along West Florissant Avenue, Ferguson became a business story, too. The unrest that gripped the community twice over the year’s final five months also had a profound effect on the businesses and economy of the St. Louis region and, to a degree, of the state as a whole.

Ferguson was hit by two waves of rioting, looting and vandalism. The first came in the wake of the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, who was black, by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, following an altercation between the men. The second came after the Nov. 24 announcement that a grand jury had declined to indict Wilson in Brown’s death.

Read more: Check out the rest of Missouri Business Alert’s Stories of the Year for 2014.

Businesses in and around Ferguson are still struggling to recover from the destruction caused by that rioting. Estimates in early December suggested 17 buildings worth about $4.6 million were destroyed during the November riots, and at least 37 more buildings were damaged. Officials said total figures for damage done in the area could take months to determine.

Gov. Jay Nixon twice called on the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Missouri National Guard to assist local police units in the area. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering has estimated the deployment of those forces cost the state more than $12.5 million.

More difficult to calculate is what the events of 2014 will mean for the future of Ferguson and the St. Louis area. Some small businesses have tapped resources available to help them rebuild, but other business owners aren’t sure rebuilding is the right move for them.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis suggested unrest in the area hurt enrollment this fall, and some wonder whether the events in Ferguson will discourage students or workers from relocating to the region in the future.

Locally based businesses like Emerson, Centene and Monsanto have pledged their support to the region in various ways, but officials fear this year’s turmoil could scare away businesses and jobs in the future, leaving lasting economic scars on greater St. Louis.

There will be no easy fixes when it comes to recovery in Ferguson, but campaigns like #FergusonRebuild and I ❤ Ferguson have been launched to help small businesses get back on their feet.

And the community, the region and the state approach 2015 with hope for answers to lingering questions that were raised this year in suburban St. Louis.

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