• Blue Springs pursues long-term strategy

  • Blue Springs is sticking with a long-term strategy, rooted in plans for the Missouri Innovation Park, to attract good-paying jobs over the long term.

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  • Blue Springs is sticking with a long-term strategy, rooted in plans for the Missouri Innovation Park, to attract good-paying jobs over the long term.
    “I’m passionate about having vision and strategy, and it has to be married with a sound business model,” said Brien Starner, president of the Blue Springs Economic Development Corporation.
    “It’s a strategy,” he said. “It’s not a deal. It’s not a ribbon-cutting.”
    In a wide-ranging interview, Starner also said the Kansas City area is at a crossroads and the state needs more focused plans for economic development.
    It is important, Starner said, for cities to not get caught up in the game of putting lots of time and resources into pursuing the one big retailer or manufacturer that everyone else is pursuing. He calls it the “original sin” of economic development.
    “People chase things, and there’s such an improbability of landing one,” he said. “We could spend 500 plays in the short game,” he said, “and have nothing to show for it.”
    The EDC and the city of Blue Springs are working with the University of Missouri on long-term plans for the Missouri Innovation Park, where companies in three areas – animal health, “food for health” and sustainable energy – would be in the Kansas City area and have access to research at other work at the University of Missouri. “It’s about an ecosystem and an environment,” Starner said.
    The MIP would take up much of the area east of Adams Dairy Parkway between I-70 and U.S. 40, but right now efforts are concentrated in a 65-acre area within that larger area. Last year, the university opened Mizzou Center, in the same building where the EDC is located, as a key step in the MIP development.
    With Blue Springs serving as a “gateway to and from the metro,” the Innovation Park is aimed at attracting companies at what Starner called “the competitive edge.”
    “If this would have been here 10 or 15 years ago, there are all kinds of companies that we could have landed,” he said.
    Those plans play into the larger debate about the Kansas City area’s economic future.
    “We’re really at a turning point as a region,” Starner said.
    Starner, a close student of history, points to the Midwest’s tradition of manufacturing things needed around the world but wonders if we’re becoming more risk averse.
    “We’ve lost of bit of that pioneer, economic-outlook edge,” he said.
    One large change he supports is the idea, promoted by Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and others, for a commuter rail system to link the entire area.
    “I think that’s a key differentiator for the region as a whole,” he said, echoing the argument proponents have made that such a system is needed as one more amenity – an assumed fact of life in many large cities – to attract the young professionals and entrepreneurs the area needs
    Page 2 of 2 - One line of the proposed system would go just south of the Innovation Park, close enough that people could live in, say, downtown Kansas City or the River Market area, and commute to the Innovation Park.
    “It really becomes the spine to link the metro” area both economically and culturally, he said.
    Starner acknowledged that Missouri communities continue to lose companies and jobs to the Kansas side of the state line.
    “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with healthy competition. It’s when it gets irrational that it gets out of hand,” he said.
    For its part, Missouri needs to get its act together, Starner said. Although he’s the economic development director for the 10th largest city in the state, he said, he doesn’t know what Missouri’s overall economic development strategy is..
    “We have not had a plan for at least two decades,” he said.
    It comes back to focus. Each region of the state, he said, needs to figure out its strengths and strategies.
    Blue Springs has both challenges – “We need light industrial. We need commercial. We need more restaurants.” – and advantages, he says, pointing to the city’s relatively compact size, lowering the cost of services. “So we’re cost effective,” he said.
    Meanwhile, a focus is needed in areas such as job training and higher education. Also, officials need to remember that job growth will usually come from small local companies that grow. “We’ve got to equip them because that is the path” to growth, he said.
    “The real issue,” he said, “is, are you positioned – your economy. ... And that’s where M.I.P. is in the crosshairs.”

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