REDI reshuffling creates open executive director position

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 | 8:26 p.m. CDT; updated 11:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

COLUMBIA - Plans to reshuffle leadership roles at Regional Economic Development Inc. are moving forward.

The shake-up is designed to enhance cohesion between MU and local government by providing new businesses with access to economic tools that can turn university research into local jobs.

The most significant change to REDI, which is outlined in the fiscal 2009 budget, will be the hiring of a new executive director to lead the organization and the creation of a new assistant director to fill a coordinating role. The budget was unanimously approved Sept. 15 by the City Council and also eliminated two marketing/public relations positions within the organization.

The right person is crucial to the success of REDI's new structure, said Bob Black, chair of REDI's board of directors. The budget calls specifically for an executive director with "special skills in attracting high-tech employers."

"We're hoping this person will have a advanced degree in science and preferably a Ph.D. in life sciences," Black said. "Also, they should have economic development experience or business development experience in the sciences."

Black plans to meet with City Manager Bill Watkins this week to refine the job description so that the hiring process can begin.

"If we don't get just the person we don't think is right, we obviously won't be hiring anybody," Black said.

Bernie Andrews, the current REDI leader and president, has the inside track on the new assistant director position, said Black, who has not considered opening up the search for assistant director beyond Andrews.

The restructuring at REDI is another example of economic planners targeting the university's resources to attract and cultivate new businesses. MU's Discovery Ridge Research Park and the business incubator at Monsanto Place have been touted as assets that can invite new business opportunities to Columbia.

"What we're trying to do is move from the old economy to the creative economy," Black said. "Instead of producing widgets, we're using intellectual power and intellectual property to create value and create jobs. We need to better relate to the university, its researchers, faculty and staff to draw out those ideas, give them the tools they need to develop a product here as opposed to having the university license it off to somebody in Wisconsin, Michigan or New Zealand."

Key relationships have to develop for this to happen, Black said.

"The university's a very complex place," Black said. "I don't think we have been able to relate well with faculty entrepreneurs. We didn't have a good package to help them with, either. If we can get just that right person, they will relate much better with the faculty, with other entrepreneurs that are coming into the area bringing their start-up businesses. That's the goal, and that's how we think we can do it, with this person."

For Andrews, cooperation between economic planners and MU is a matter of timing. As recently as five years ago, MU was not as focused on economic development, he said. Turnover in key positions at the university also posed a challenge.

Now it's a much different story, Andrews said, and it's time to take advantage. University assets are in place. Entities such as the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the city of Columbia and Boone County work in concert to provide incentives for new businesses.

"There's been a lot more discussion (about development) in the past few years," Andrews said. "The community has really stepped up."



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