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Nearby counties offer web help until Pulaski economic developer hired
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 14, 2009) — Members of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance are actively seeing a director of economic development for the county comparable to similar positions in Rolla and Lebanon. At Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the Fort Leonard Wood Regional Commerce and Growth Association, the development directors for those two communities said they’d like to help improve website marketing for the entire region, including Pulaski County, at least until an economic developer is in place for Pulaski County.

Using the internet to attract new businesses has become critical, according to Ben Jones, who chairs the Fort Leonard Wood Regional Commerce and Growth Association and serves as the economic developer for Lebanon and Laclede County.

“More and more we hear that everybody starts their search on the web, so the bigger presence we can build, the more links out there, the more ways for people to find us, the better,” Jones said.

Hiring an economic developer for Pulaski County will be challenging, acknowledged board member Bob Chapman, due in part to a relatively low salary of $36,000.

“We know our salary is low, but raising money was hard,” Chapman said. “We do have more money than that and we are prepared to pay more money than that, but we just put a minimum in there. So if that throws somebody off, tell them don’t give up hope — that is kind of a basement figure that we used.”

Qualifications for the position, according to the job announcement, include a bachelors’ degree in a relevant area of study with preferences for a person with an MBA or CEcD certification, as well as at least six years of management and economic development experience.

“Candidates must possess a comprehensive knowledge of marketing, business development and sales,” according to the job announcement. “Previous experience in solicitation of program funding from municipal and corporate sources and building and maintaining public/private partnerships in economic development is a plus. The ideal candidate will have a proven track record in creation and retention of primary jobs and have outstanding communication and organizational management skills.”

Preference is given to people who are living in or willing to relocate to Pulaski County; the application deadline is May 15, with applications to be submitted to the St. James-based Meramec Regional Planning Commission.

Chapman said he hoped a “good fringe benefit package” and “operational dollars to make things work” will help in recruiting a qualified economic developer to Pulaski County.

Jones concurred that funding is difficult throughout the entire area.

“We’ve got two economic development folks in here that will echo your thoughts about the difficulty of raising funds this year versus a couple of years ago,” Jones said.

“From the pledges to the actual checks, there’s a lot of difference,” Chapman said.

A major part of the economic developer’s work will be website development and creating an online profile of Pulaski County and its economic opportunities. Until someone is available to do that for Pulaski County, Jones said he’ll seek volunteers to enter needed data on Missouri Location One — the state’s economic marketing and development database for local communities — and do as much work as he can for the region.

“This is the great big database that the state of Missouri Department of Economic Development uses to track information about localities, counties and cities. It includes demographic information, labor force, leading employers, just many categories of information about the area,” Jones said. “It also has a place where you can input information on available buildings and available green space sites.”

Jones said the Fort Leonard Wood RCGA is one of the few regional economic development groups in the state that isn’t posting its data on Missouri Location One, and said there are places for everything from military bases to research centers, vocational and technical schools, new businesses and wage and tax data. Getting that information posted within the next 30 to 90 days should be a priority, he said.

Col. John Megnia, Fort Leonard Wood’s garrison commander, said he’d like to take a close look at what data Missouri wants for military installations.

“I have 12,000 people who live on the post and they’re not captured out in the counties,” Megnia said. “If they’re just asking for a narrative, then it’s the same old story; they’re missing the point of what Fort Leonard Wood adds to this area. The retirees will come from someplace else; they’ll be picked up in the census. But I don’t know if the census gets the 12,000 people I have living here, not including the trainees. We’ve got single soldiers, we’ve got soldiers and their families, and then we have anywhere between 8,000 and 20,000 trainees here on any given day.”

Jones said the administrators of Missouri Location One are “very generous about letting you put in whatever it is that you want.”

“If there is something in there that we are unable to add in that we feel would be a good thing for us to add in — which could very well happen on the military part since Whiteman Air Force Base isn’t as big as Fort Leonard Wood— we may be able to go back to the administrative entity and say, ‘Hey, we want to add this information in,’” Jones said.

Lt. Col. Hugh Rogers, Fort Leonard Wood’s assistant chief of staff, asked if the data posted online could include information about the military retiree population. While not mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting, economic development personnel have previously noted that military retirees make an attractive employee pool for companies considering relocation because military retirees usually keep their TRICARE military insurance rather than needing civilian insurance, have at least two decades of technical training and leadership skills, and often are willing to live in lower-cost and lower-income areas near military installations so they can use their military retiree benefits.

“I don’t know if you are tracking the number of retirees in your area,” Rogers said. “I’m just going off stuff in our command briefings that indicates there are quite a few in this area.”

Mike Alley, Fort Leonard Wood’s chief of external media, said that is being tracked. Data for each area zip code on military retirees, active duty military personnel, and civilian employees has been compiled, Alley said, and has been provided to the Prager Corporation, which is in the process of doing a workforce study on the Fort Leonard Wood area using a grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment.

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