When Justin Raymundo, the BioSTL director of regional workforce strategy, started his job in March 2021, his company, like others, was experiencing a major talent shortage.

With Thermo Fisher Scientific, MilliporeSigma and Pfizer as employers, the pandemic made the need for talent even more apparent.

Raymundo knew BioSTL needed to create a strong and robust workforce strategy, but he did not know exactly how to achieve it.

That’s how he became connected to Exceed — MU Extension’s Regional Economic and Entrepreneurial Development program.

MU Extension is designed to share information and research conducted at MU with the rest of the state. Exceed, an offshoot of Extension, is intended specifically to enhance development by “providing high-quality research and insights to (their) partners,” according to its website.

Exceed worked with Raymundo and BioSTL to design a study that determined where the largest talent gaps in the bioscience industry were. They called it a labor market analysis, and it showed a major need for bioscience manufacturing jobs.

“Having experts that understand the novelty or the unique approach that’s needed to do a labor market analysis of this style was important,” Raymundo said.

Extension Specialist Luke Dietterle said those results are what Exceed is all about.

“We take kind of a more regional approach to thinking about how all these different industries play across a region,” Dietterle said. (It’s) about meeting people where they’re at in their communities and helping them utilize the skills and assets they already have.”

This is only part of what Exceed is known for. Assistant Extension Professor Alan Spell said most of their efforts can be described as “outreach,” but they look different in the ways they achieve this.

Economic indicators

Every three weeks, Exceed publishes “The Missouri Economy Indicators,” a brief that helps inform people involved with Extension about topics in the economy.

“We’ve published 50 so far,” Spell said. “We started in March of 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic, and we just did our 50th post.”

The most recent issues contain information about outdoor recreation, energy investment trends, COVID-19 and paid leave. With briefs, they also send out PowerPoints to Extension colleagues to use in other outreach efforts.

“We’re trying to be a multiplier,” Spell said. “A lot of times this information is just helpful knowledge in the background as communities try to plan for their own economies.”

Strategic doing

Another part of Exceed’s outreach focuses on training individual companies with a goal. If a community needs to unpack an economic development topic, Exceed trainers will do a “bite-sized” training course to figure out what the first steps of unpacking that topic are.

“At the end of the day, attendees will have chosen their target projects/opportunities and developed a plan based on the research provided,” according to the Exceed website.

Dietterle recalls bringing Strategic Doing to an area in Missouri that he said does not get a lot of support: the Bootheel.

The town of Risco wanted to increase retail in town, and Strategic Doing helped them realize what was standing in the way. They prioritized working with what they already had, rather than chasing after what Dietterle called a “lofty goal.”

“They’re going to wind up getting a Dollar General, one of the new ones with a market and actual fresh produce,” he said.

Communities wanting to participate in Strategic Doing can contact Dwayne James to get started.

Data training

Exceed’s website boasts that its broad training gives “(teams) fundamental skills in public information data collection, analysis and visualization” and teaches attendees how to use data through hands-on exercises.

The program provides a customized curriculum with in-person training and copies of training materials to participants.

“Everyone has to actually collect that information as we go and find out if (trainees) have any challenges along the way,” Spell said. “We can help them because we’re actually right there.”

Recently, he conducted a training session in Marshall, Missouri.

“We trained economic developers and local government officials on how to find data for grants, or business needs,” Spell said. “That’s an important thing in our world today. We need to understand some of the data and … our regional economy.”

At his October presentation to the Missouri Economic Development Council (MEDC), he covered how to find key economic development data and tips on data visualization.

“(Spell) basically sat down with everybody and said, ‘Here’s all the publicly available data’ and kind of went through all of the different sources, how to navigate the difference in portals and dashboards, and then also how to tell the story with the data,” Dietterle said.

Shawna Searcy, executive director of the council, said the ability to analyze data, beyond just accessing it, is imperative to the economic development profession.

“Many of our members are either small or rural communities,” Searcy said. “We just don’t have the resources to pay large data companies (to) pull data and visualize it for us.”

Exceed’s free training offered a solution.

“(Spell) was able to teach us how to find that data. But a spreadsheet isn’t enough, right? (Exceed) helps us find the resources so we can actually present that information in a useful manner to our communities,” she said.

In a survey given to MEDC members, 94% of respondents said they would recommend the training to a friend or colleague. In fact, Searcy is already planning to have Exceed return for another presentation.

Grant or contract-funded research

Exceed also does research that is available to the general public. Its website provides research on agritourism resources, entrepreneurial ecosystems, broadband resources, manufacturing resources and health care and the rural economy.

That is how they were able to create the “bioscience labor market analysis” for BioSTL.

“We work in a lot of areas of our economy,” Spell said. “But that’s kind of the role that Exceed plays. We’re a group that works in a lot of different spaces around understanding our regional economy.”

The future for Exceed

Moving forward, Dietterle said Exceed is launching a podcast called “Show Me Most Success,” designed to share success stories around the state.

“Extension is involved in so many things, and often, people are out in the field and disconnected. (They) don’t always know what everybody else is doing,” Dietterle said.

He added that the podcast showcases an Extension professional, as well as someone who has succeeded through Extension programming.

“Just being able to spread the word about what work extension is doing is another goal we’ve built,” Dietterle said.

  • Reporter covering the city/county and state government. Studying reporting and written journalism with a minor in political science. Reach me at a.feinberg@mail.missouri.edu and on Twitter @alliefeinberg.

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