REDI considers partnership with Kansas City organization

Thursday, December 11, 2008 | 5:33 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Board members of Regional Economic Development Inc. received a pitch on Wednesday to collaborate with a similar economic development and business recruitment engine that represents the Kansas City region.

The partnership would require an initial $25,000, one-year investment from REDI, said Robert Marcusse, who is president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council.

“Columbia and KCADC could perhaps set a mutually beneficial relationship that is based less on real property and more on intellectual property,” Marcusse explained.

He made no assurances that, were a relationship to be forged, Columbia would be in contention for certain large-scale physical prospects that KCADC receives, such as a distribution center. But he maintained that “companies that could clearly benefit from what the university has to offer” could be referred to the city. MU is listed as an investor partner in KCADC on that group's Web site.

In particular, Marcusse referenced life sciences and animal health companies that might be drawn to an “animal health corridor” stretching from Manhattan, Kan., to Columbia. He said roughly one-third of total sales in the global animal health industry are located within that corridor.

“We think that we have found a way to focus the concentration of this particular industry on this corridor, and this corridor includes Columbia,” Marcusse said. “We can really anchor ourselves as the center of this industry in a way that even goes beyond the aggregation of assets.”

He noted KCADC’s role in hyping Manhattan, Kan., as a prime location for a $563 million federal biodefense lab. The city was eventually recommended as the finalist for the project earlier this month. Should Department of Homeland Security officials officially select the Manhattan site on Jan. 12, the Kansas City Star reports that the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility would employ between 250 and 350 workers with a payroll up to $30 million each year.

“There will be great benefit that expands far beyond K-State, far beyond Manhattan and extends to Columbia as a result of this very, very important decision,” Marcusse said. "We ought to be viewing success as their finding a home in Columbia if they connect with the University of Missouri.”

He said that — like the project in Manhattan — KCADC’s influence can expand beyond the 18-county region that his organization represents and suggested REDI join it in attempting to draw new businesses to the area.

REDI board members voiced several concerns about the proposal.

Paul Land of Plaza Real Estate Services asked whether a Columbia representative would have a seat on the 32-member KCADC Board of Directors.

Marcusse said he could not speak for his organization’s nominating committee. But he added that two communities each from Kansas and Missouri hold board positions as “community partners,” and he said he would be “very interested” in having Columbia fill one of those spots.

Vicki Russell, associate publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune, further questioned what additional benefit a partnership between REDI and KCADC would achieve beyond what is currently gained through MU’s membership in KCADC. Russell is listed on REDI's Web site as a member of that group's board of directors for fiscal year 2009.

To that, Marcusse responded, “I have always believed that you can define a certain level of benefit as sort of clear, but that a relationship — a mutual trust — leads to all sorts of things that you can’t define. …When people of a like mind that want to accomplish something positive for their community get together and trust each other, wonderful things can happen.”

Ultimately, Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins suggested creating a budget proposal and drafting a letter of intent for an agreement between REDI and KCADC for consideration at the REDI board’s January meeting.

“I think this is something we seriously need to consider,” Watkins said.

Mary Anne McCollum, manager of constituent relations with MU University Affairs, added “$25,000 is a lot money right now, even if we weren’t in a crisis … (but) in tough times, you’ve got to be creative; you’ve got to be innovative.”

In the REDI board’s formal meeting Wednesday, President Bernie Andrews noted several business prospects with potential for locating in Columbia.

He said one promising lead, a British company that has developed a cancer-screening test for dogs, has shown interest in a site at the new MU Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place, located on south Providence Road.

Andrews said the company’s technology director recently visited the site, and its commercial director is scheduled to meet with REDI staff this week. If an agreement with the unnamed prospect is reached in January, which Andrews hopes will happen, it “could be the first attraction candidate for the incubator.”

REDI’s president also noted as prospects: a company working on the treatment side of zoonotic cancer that has also expressed interest in a site at the business incubator, a real estate firm looking to establish a data center in Columbia, a faculty start-up in the nanotechnology field and an active company that conducts reactions with radioactive isotopes.

At the end of the meeting, board members met behind closed doors to discuss the potential acquisition of real property.

REDI’s next monthly board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 14.

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