There’s change underway in Jefferson City’s approach to economic development.
The city council, chamber of commerce and a group of community leaders began the process in 2019 and are closing in on implementation of a new economic development strategy that consists of several strategic initiatives.
Market Street Services, a national community and economic development firm based in Atlanta, was hired to facilitate the strategic planning process. The firm conducted an extensive community assessment last year, from which it developed the strategy and initiatives. Those initiatives are being reviewed and considered this month by a steering committee of 23 community leaders. Upon agreement, the process will move to an implementation phase.
It’s anticipated that moving from planning to implementation may require a new organizational structure. Economic development in Jefferson City has long been the under the purview of the chamber of commerce. But part of the assessment has been to examine the need for a new organization that would be developed to meet the mission of the new strategy. This work will get underway shortly, and is expected to be completed in March.
“The question moving forward is how we should be structured,” said Randy Allen, President and CEO of the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce. “We need to match the organization with the strategy and come up with what’s best for moving our community forward.”
Allen will be retiring this summer after 15 years with the chamber.
Allen and Missy Bonnot, the chamber’s director of economic development said a lot has changed since the chamber last worked with Market Street on strategic planning in 2010. Across the county, there’s been a shift in economic development from a focus on attracting jobs from outside the region to a greater emphasis on growing from within.
The first initiative in the new plan is “Workforce Development.” The authors maintain that “a skilled, trained workforce is the No. 1 essential factor is shaping a region’s economic competitiveness.”
“I think it has to be our No. 1 priority,” Bonnot said. “If you are going to grow you have to have employees. There are no easy solutions, no magic bullets. We are going to need to do 10 or 12 different things right.”
Three other main narratives are the focus of the new strategy. Second is “Economic Development.”
“All three legs of the economic development stool are paramount to a balanced approach to economic development,” the authors write. “Data reveals that existing businesses and new startups account for the bulk of job creation with most communities, and existing businesses and newly recruited business drive capital investment. Small businesses provide an outlet and add options for existing and prospective talent with the right supports in place. All three of these rely on a community’s “product,” which consists of its workforce, existing sector composition, location, infrastructure, sites and buildings, place-based assets and other factors.” The plan will propose recommendations related to each leg of the economic development stool.
Third is “Sense of Place/Quality of Life.”
“Jefferson City is undoubtedly a good place to raise a family,” the authors write. “There are not major concerns of high crime. The various elements of the community tend to get along fairly well. Traffic levels land commute times are favorable. When major projects are discussed, they do not seem to be able to capture the vision and excitement of the masses withing the community. The Missouri State Penitentiary Site has tremendous potential, but it appears that the project has been left primarily to the public sector to work out the steps of determining whether it will become a reality The absence of a conference center becomes another aspect which could unite the community in many ways. While there is tremendous work on the river, the airport, and the prison site, there does not appear to be a single focused effort that is backed by the majority of the leadership to ensure that these ideas and potential game changing projects become a reality.” The plan then offers several initiatives.
Fourth and final is called “Regionalism.”
Regionalism is the lynch pin to successful economic development across the country,” the authors write. “Much input was received during the Community Assessment Phase of this strategy in support of establishing some type of regional effort to at least include Jefferson City and the surrounding communities. An enhanced focus and commitment must be developed and implemented to ensure that the regional needs, both present and future are addressed.”
The authors of the plan believe that if effectively and efficiently implemented, the plan “can change this community’s trajectory in a manner consistent with residents’ vision for the future.”
“The Jefferson City area has a choice,” the authors write. “invest in its future with greater intentionality and coordination or accept the consequences that accompany complacency and accepting the status quo. As the research has illustrated Jefferson City has many attributes, assets and advantages that has buffered it from economic downturns and stagnant population growth. Without maximizing these advantages and committing to proactively tackling issues that has prevented the community from moving from good to great, trends indicate that Jefferson City faces many negative long-term implications. Rather than evolving into an economy that is increasingly entrepreneurial and characterized by a more diverse and highly trained workforce, it could devolve into a community that is increasingly characterized by and supportive of government services, while continuing to lose residents and jobs to communities in other portions of the larger region.”