What is an Economic Developer?

I have discovered that I go about my normal day-to-day without realizing people do not know very much about my position and what an economic developer does. For me, I went to graduate school for this, so it is natural for me to jump right in and start working. What I keep forgetting, though, is that this sort of county economic development position is not only new to Bates County, but this entire region. So I thought I would take some time in this entry to explain what an economic developer does and my game plan based on that information.

What people think of most when they hear about an economic developer is bringing in new jobs, which is true, because that is my main goal. What is unknown to most is that there is so much going on behind the scenes to make that happen. The economic developer is not that star of a Broadway musical, they are the director working behind the scenes to make sure everything happens when it is supposed to and to help fill in the gaps as they come along. When a business is looking to locate in a city or county, the economic developer is that person in the background answering any questions they have and possibly offering incentives. For example, utilities come up a lot and businesses want to know who serves them and the details about that utility, plus they will want to know if there are any incentives the utility company might offer. That is not anything huge, but the economic developer will have the answers for something small like this, and if they do not, they can easily use their resources to find them. Being able to assist in these small ways show they care about the business and builds a trust that will continue for years into the future.

To go back to the Broadway musical analogy, there is a lot that goes into a musical production including the set, props, and actors. The same works for any city or county because in order to get a new business, the area needs to appeal to them. The site is very important because most businesses want to have easy highway access, visibility, and infrastructure in place. Depending on the size of the business, the housing market is also important, as well as dining and shopping options. So, before opening day (or when a new business comes in), all of these pieces need to be put together.

It is the economic developer’s job to find out strengths and weaknesses of their area, then build on the strengths and improve the weaknesses. To do this, there needs to be a team in place to help because, realistically, while I would like to have all of the answers, I unfortunately do not. This team consists of utility company representatives, different boards and committees, city and county officials, community members, and representatives at the regional and state level. This is my stage crew, and they are in place to assist me with whatever I might need.

So, what does all of this mean and what does it have to do with Bates County? I have been here for a little over a year now and in that year I have been working hard to get to know the community and the different strengths and weaknesses within it. One of the main strengths is Interstate 49, and that is one of the reasons Heritage Tractor chose this area. Another strength is the railroad, which was appealing to The Scoular Company. This county has so much going for it because of these strengths and the proximity to Kansas City.

Now let me take a minute to describe the process of how a business comes to Missouri. It starts at the state level, with the Missouri Partnership. A company will anonymously give criteria of what they are looking for to the Partnership. This generally includes whether they want a preexisting building or not, proximity to a specific area, utility ready sites, or even proximity to a highway. The partnership then sends out a lead to every economic development group in the state with this criteria and other information they might need. The information that has to be filled in can be very extensive and to add to it there normally is a very short timeline to get it back to the Missouri Partnership. From there, the company goes through each Request For Information that was submitted and will narrow it down until they have found what they are looking for.

Now that you know all of this, a weakness for Bates County would be our inexperience to play with what I call “the big kids”, which includes areas like Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Louis. They are teams that have been doing this for a long time, so when a business shows interest in their area, they instantly have sites to show them and have all of the information that company might want. To do this is a lot work, because there is a lot of information that is needed for a business to even show interest. The cities already have their crews, the stage is set, and the props are in place.

I have spent this past year learning all about this county so I can now work on putting my musical together. Bates County already has the stage that a lot of companies are looking for, but until this point nobody has really known it. Now I am ready to find those sites and get information so the next time I get a viable lead from the Missouri Partnership I can submit something. The work that goes into this includes finding existing buildings and sites, maps, local workforce information, railroad and highway information, existing business statistics, and infrastructure information. The infrastructure information can be time consuming depending on the situation. If it is an existing building you just have to get the information from the different providers, but if it is not you then have to figure out if the infrastructure is in place, where it is located on the site, and if it is not in place, how much it would take to get it there.  As I am doing all of this, I will also continue to build on the strengths and improve the weaknesses of this county, which will only make Bates County stronger and more appealing.

I know that is kind of a lengthy explanation, but I hope you now know some of what goes into my job as the Bates County Economic Developer. This is not even my ENTIRE job though, this is just a portion. My next entry and I will go into detail, like I just did, about what an economic developer does at the local level. This includes business retention and expansion, and community growth, among other things.

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