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Economic developer hired for Pulaski County and Fort Leonard Wood area
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (July 20, 2009) — After an extended search, members of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance have hired an economic developer to promote the county and its five cities.

Wayne Morgan, a Lake Ozark resident who most recently served as the economic developer for Eldon’s city government and chamber of commerce, began work Monday morning in what’s still a sparsely furnished office co-located with the Waynesville-Saint Robert Chamber of Commerce.

“He has a chair and a desk and he will soon have a phone line and internet services,” said Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall at Monday morning’s county commission meeting.

“I’m excited about him hitting the ground running and I’m sure the time spent on gathering information will be time well spent,” Ransdall said. “I don’t expect him to be out speaking to civic groups this week or next week. That will come as we go along, but I expect him to find out as much information as we can and be prepared to aggressively go out in the county and start receiving proposals for economic development.”

In addition to his duties chairing the county commission, Ransdall serves as chairman of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, an independent organization begun last July whose 12-member board includes representatives of the county’s cities and segments of the business and educational community. The Pulaski County Growth Alliance was formed following the recommendation of a workforce study funded by the Department of Defense which strongly recommended that Pulaski County have a full-time economic developer to promote itself to businesses whose executives were considering locations near Fort Leonard Wood.

“I was surprised at the amount of phone calls this county receives from people wanting to come here to invest,” Ransdall said. “At least now we’re going to have a central point where someone can direct those people and help them meet and talk and have information and start spurring some answers to questions on which this county has been far behind for a long time.”

Many of those calls are currently going to the city government of St. Robert or to the Waynesville-St. Robert Chamber of Commerce. That’s not necessarily the best option for the county as a whole, Ransdall noted.

“You’re dealing here with two totally separate markets, in my opinion: the Waynesville-St. Robert-Fort Leonard Wood area is really commercialized with asphalt roads and communities with hundreds of houses,” Ransdall said. “The north half of the county has railroad right of way; the south half of the county has the I-44 corridor … Those (northern) areas, Richland, Dixon and Crocker, have flat ground and large parcels and there’s not any of those left down here that I’m aware of.”

A major part of Morgan’s work will be developing a county website. While Waynesville, St. Robert, and most of the county’s other cities and school districts have websites, the county government as a whole has no official internet presence although some county department heads such as County Collector Terri Mitchell and Circuit Clerk Rachelle Beasley maintain their own departmental websites.

“Pulaski County will finally have a county website that will be useful to cities, realtors and businesses,” Ransdall said in a prepared statement issued last week by the Meramec Regional Planning Commission. “The economic advantages of our county are great right now and we want to make them known to potential employers.”

According to the MRPC press release, Morgan was one of three finalists for the Pulaski County Growth Alliance position. Morgan was one of 16 applicants, and of those 16, seven were considered before winnowing the field down to three finalists. He has 12 years experience as a professional economic developer including 10 years in Eldon and two years with the Barton County Chamber of Commerce, and previously served six years as mayor of the northeastern Missouri city of Paris.

All of those positions are in communities considerably smaller than Pulaski County, which at more than 40,000 people is the state’s largest third-class county. Barton County is north of Joplin near the Kansas state line and as of the 2000 census had 12,541 people; Paris had 1,529 in 2000, up from 1,486 a decade earlier. The city of Eldon had 4,895 residents in 2000. His formal training includes a bachelor’s degree in business, certification as an economic development finance professional (EDFI), and graduation from the Economic Development Institute of the University of Oklahoma and the Heartland Economic Development Course.

Morgan was no longer working for Eldon at the time of his hiring by the Pulaski County Growth Alliance. Ransdall said during Monday morning’s county commission meeting that he doesn’t anticipate that being an issue.

“Our calls to his references said he was excellent and we would love him,” Ransdall said.

Morgan, a former member of the Missouri Army National Guard, did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood.

“He does have military experience and he said Fort Leonard Wood has changed drastically since the last time he was there,” Ransdall said.

Ransdall said he wasn’t sure of Morgan’s final rank or years of military service, but said he’s not a military retiree.

Morgan’s extensive background and contacts in economic development should help Pulaski County, Ransdall said, especially after Morgan collects necessary information about available commercial buildings and land that could be used for development and posts that information on an official website.

“One of the things I’m going to ask the cities to do is inventory what they have for economic development,” Ransdall said. “I think this will be a huge benefit to our county as a whole.”

Examples of information to be posted on that website include wall heights and estimated utility costs for commercial buildings and availability of land and utility connections for undeveloped property.

“Railroad sidings in Richland, Crocker and Dixon are also important to some people. I think this will be a great move to our county and a positive move, but it will only be as good as the information provided,” Ransdall said.

Raising the necessary funding for the Pulaski County Growth Alliance has been a challenge. A fundraising campaign begun in November generated pledges of $50,000 for this year with similar amounts pledged for the next two years. The MRPC press release noted that “part of Morgan’s job will be securing the financial base of the organization.”

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