Representatives from 12 Missouri counties met in Jefferson City on Friday to discuss the need to think regionally.
“You have the power to be the next big region in Missouri,” Patrick McKeehan, from the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, told around 200 audience members at the first Mid-Missouri Economic Summit held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
“People are in this region for a reason. Discover what that is,” he said.
The summit was organized by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Council and Regional Economic Development Inc.
The Columbia chamber’s involvement in the project stemmed from its strategic plan.
“A focus of the (Columbia) chamber for the next couple of years is regionalism,” Tina Bernskoetter of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce said. It was an opportunity “to come together to talk as neighbors and business partners.”
The hope is that mid-Missouri be seen as a whole region, rather than just Columbia or Jefferson City, both legislatively and as a business community, Bernskoetter said.
Bill Elder, director of the MU’s office of social and economic data analysis, challenged the group to think creatively.
“This is a summit. You’re supposed to deal with big issues here. You’re supposed to come up with big ideas,” he said.
Greg Steinhoff, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said new business recruitment and old business retention, infrastructure, such as highways and air service, work force development and the focus on entrepreneurship are areas of possible improvement to bring about stronger regional unity and strength for mid-Missouri.
Highways and Transportation Commissioner Mike Kehoe, the keynote speaker, turned to a classic movie phrase — “If you build it, they will come” — to get his point across.
“Infrastructure is the key to economic development,” he said. With its more regional projects, “MoDOT is making a huge difference in your communities,” he said.
“Economic development is about building the entire community, putting all the pieces together,” Steinhoff said. “The good news for mid-Missouri is that we have all these things. The potential is there, the challenge for us is to organize leadership and get the job done.”