Eastern Jackson County continues to put in place some of the things experts say are needed to foster home-grown job expansion.

Eastern Jackson County continues to put in place some of the things experts say are needed to foster home-grown job expansion.

In looking over a two-year-old report on how Missouri fosters quickly growing companies, some key factors now leap off the page.

“ ... the top two issues they face ... are keeping costs down and finding and retaining qualified workers,” says “Chasing Cheetahs: Lessons from Missouri’s Fastest Growing Businesses.” The report was released by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center and a division of the University of Missouri.

The report also cites the need to connect university research with quickly growing companies.

This area is taking steps to address those issues:

This year the Economic Development Council of Independence opened the Independence Ennovation Center (at the site of the old hospital in western Independence), a business incubator focused on, among other things, biotech and culinary. The idea is to give startups a place to get going while holding down costs. The Independence Chamber of Commerce has launched a partnership with the University of Central Missouri, giving the university space to offer a range of business services, especially in job training. The university will move into the Free Enterprise Center (aka the chamber offices) at 210 W. Truman Road just off the  Square after the first of the year. UCM officials also said their programs address a need they hear about from business and a need highlighted in the report: What the heck is going on in my industry, and what do I need to do to keep up or get ahead? Longer term, plans for the Missouri Innovation Park in Blue Springs still offer bright hopes for bringing market applications for university research in animal science. The University of Missouri last spring opened an office to begin the process of getting the Innovation Park going.

The 2008 report suggests those are exactly the kinds of things that “cheetahs” – companies that have doubled their employee headcount in five years – are looking for. Other challenges include effective marketing, expanded paperwork that comes with expanded payrolls, health care and the ever-changing nature of the economy.

The report, which the authors claim is the first of its kind, draws an interesting portrait of small business in Missouri:

Half of all Missourians work for a small business. Nationwide, small businesses create 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs. Less of 4 percent of Missouri’s businesses qualify as “cheetahs,” but those 6,252 businesses added 130,000 jobs during the five years covered by the study. The Kansas City area was home to 18.52 percent of those companies, which account for about one of every 13 jobs in the region, slightly higher than the statewide average. About one-sixth of the firms were in construction, and it’s worth pointing out that construction is one of the areas hardest hit by the economic downturn that was hitting with full force just at the time the report was issued. More than one cheetah in 10 is a retailer, and other major groups are “professional, scientific and technical services,” wholesalers and administrative and support services. These entrepreneurs say Missouri is a pretty good place to do business – 78 percent said state policies have not been a barrier to their success – but they’d always like to have fewer regulations.

“The top issues that Missouri’s fastest growing firms are faced with due to their rapid growth include: finding and retaining qualified workers, increased administrative duties, higher healthcare costs and payroll, and higher office costs and cash flow,” the report says, adding later, “Half of Cheetah respondents indicated that government could best assist them via regulatory reform, changing the business tax structure, and reducing the costs for health care and energy.”