Metal (copy)

Let’s face it. If someone is going to live in St. Joseph, he or she will need a better reason than believing it’s a “nice place.” You might say nice places finish in the same place as nice guys.

There’s got to be a job, a school opportunity or some kind of family connection to lure an outsider to move from some other city to St. Joseph.

Businesses are no different.

That became apparent last week when one of St. Joseph’s newest companies, O’Neal Steel, held a ceremony to celebrate the opening of a 64,000-square-foot distribution facility at 22nd Street and Southwest Parkway. While the company’s employment footprint starts small in St. Joseph, the development is significant for a couple of reasons.

O’Neal occupies a building that was left vacant. It shows that the steel industry is not dead in the United States and manufacturing continues to thrive in St. Joseph. O’Neal distributes metal tubes, sheets, plates, bars and other steel or aluminium products to a range of industrial and business customers.

For now, O’Neal’s St. Joseph facility primarily serves one of this city’s largest employers: Altec Inc. Both companies are based in Alabama, and officials at O’Neal characterized Altec’s presence as a determining factor in the decision to invest in St. Joseph.

It’s an example of how businesses tend to attract similar businesses, with Triumph Foods leading to Daily’s Premium Meats, Boehringer Ingelheim spawning smaller animal health companies and now O’Neal deciding to locate in St. Joseph while it looks to expand its local customer base beyond Altec.

“St. Joseph has never really had a steel supplier that can support large manufacturers,” said Rick Kneib, commodity manager at Altec.

In its history, St. Joseph lost out on new businesses for reasons as varied as the businesses themselves. In a story that may be apocryphal, a television manufacturer was said to skip over St. Joseph decades ago because the Country Club didn’t admit Jewish members at the time.

One business executive, who was from a bigger city, gave St. Joseph a hard look until his wife glanced out the window at Kansas City International Airport and saw cows near the runway.

Recent years have brought stories of major warehouses and auto manufacturers choosing sites based on big-city amenities, warm weather, seaport facilities or favorable labor laws.

There’s not much to be done about some of these reasons. Your ZIP code is your ZIP code.

In the case of O’Neal, it was refreshing to see other cities perhaps looking with a little envy about what St. Joseph brought to the table in order to attract this employer.

Maybe O’Neal officials will even decide that the city is a nice place.