COLUMBIA — Retaining existing businesses, attracting new ones and supporting entrepreneurship will be the main priorities for J. Mike Brooks when he becomes the city's first economic development director on July 15.
City Manager Bill Watkins announced the appointment on Monday. Brooks, who now works as president and chief executive of the Indiana Health Industry Forum, will be paid $120,000 per year. As part of his job, he also will serve as president of Regional Economic Development Inc., or REDI, a public-private agency run as a partnership among Boone County, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, MU and the city of Columbia.
Brooks said building relationships with MU will be key.
“One specific area of interest are opportunities to work closely with MU and to identify ways to make new technology fit into creating jobs in the community,” Brooks said.
Watkins said Brooks is a perfect fit for the job and matches the criteria used by an applicant screening committee. Watkins specifically cited Brooks' background in working with universities. Brooks served as associate vice president for research and economic development at Utah State University and as president of Lafayette-West Lafayette Economic Development Corp., where he worked closely with Purdue.
“I believe his set of experiences and skills are exactly what we are looking for in Columbia right now,” Watkins said.
In a news release, REDI Chairman Bob Black also emphasized the relationship with MU as part of the job's main focus.
“One of our goals is to harness the research power of the University of Missouri and help it drive technology-related jobs, products and businesses,” Black said.
Brooks thinks his experience in the medical sector and with universities will translate well to developing Columbia’s economy.
In his first days in office, Brooks will take on the task of meeting many government officials, MU administrators and other stakeholders in order to become familiar with the city and his new role as economic development director.
“The opportunity in coming to Columbia is to learn as much as I can and gain a thorough understanding of the community, its strengths and weaknesses,” Brooks said.
Working in Indiana where the economy is strongly dependent on a struggling manufacturing industry, Brooks is optimistic about the transition.
“I think it will be a great opportunity to work with the economy here,” he said. “As I look at Columbia, it’s not as dependent on manufacturing and is more dependent on the university and medical sectors.”
Watkins also added that the city is taking a new look at its mission statement of nurturing existing businesses and that Brooks will be at the center of any new approach.
“Our goal is to create a business friendly environment, and we could be doing more,” Watkins said.
Brooks will work alongside current interim Economic Development Director Bernie Andrews, who will become REDI’s executive vice president.
“I think Bernie and Mike together will make a dynamic combination,” Watkins said, adding that he is expecting a smooth transition for Brooks into the community.