It would be easy for Brien Starner to sit on a throne and watch the events surrounding the Missouri Innovation Park at Blue Springs unfold.

It would be easy for Brien Starner to sit on a throne and watch the events surrounding the Missouri Innovation Park at Blue Springs unfold.

After all, the 500-plus acre innovation park could become one of the first of its kind in the nation – and a milestone to a 20-year career in economic development.

But Starner isn’t that type of person. As director of the Blue Springs Economic Development Corporation, Starner said he learned a long time ago that while a vision may be yours, in the end it is the leadership that brings it full circle.

“This isn’t about Brien Starner,” he said this week, two days before closing out 2008, a year that has seen his vision finally come to fruition. “It’s about the community that it’s in and all the people who are responsible for bringing it here. When you make economic development about one person, you miss the ultimate mission.”

While the innovation park is years away from build out, and nearly two years before earth is even turned, Starner is conducting himself in the same manner now as if it was two years ago before anyone had even perked their ears to listen. That is, with energy.

When he was first hired as the corporation’s director, however, the idea was already there, brimming in his imagination: a business park or something similar, located in Blue Springs or within its outskirts.

“The raw opportunity was there to do something,” he said, “but what also was here was a mandate to do it. And there was the resources and the drive in the city to work to get it done.

“But I honestly didn’t anticipate how much success we’d have on the deal.”

The initial talks began about two years ago. Starner approached the city  and other possible parties, eventually speaking with the University of Missouri about a partnership. The land was identified and the work began, with important – if not critical – encouragement coming from the life science and animal health sectors, the Mid-America Regional Council, and the Kansas City Area Development Council.

It helped that Starner brought with him extensive experience. He was a former member of the Overland Park Economic Development Council; director of Economic Development and Corporate Real Estate Services for Aquila, for both Kansas City and Michigan.

It’s been his past focus on strategic planning, community and organizational facilitation and community wealth creation that has helped this project along the most.

It certainly hasn’t been luck, Starner said.

“It wasn’t luck or coincidence,” he said. “With the community of Blue Springs,  there was a drive there that attracted me in the beginning. Before I arrived,  the city, I knew, had a lot of fundamentals and strengths. At one point the city lost its way, but it’s finding it again.”

The park will be located on the Adams Dairy Parkway, surrounding the golf course and backing up to the new Adams Dairy Landing retail project. It is the projected home to animal science research companies, a satellite campus for the University of Missouri on 20 acres and other possible business endeavors.

For Starner, there were no college courses or formal training in parks like the one proposed. In fact, the park is a kind of culmination of all he’s learned about economic development.

“There was no program or course where a park was the focus,” he said. “At first, when I brought up the idea to the city, to the KCADC, I approached it by asking what were the limits, what did the city want to happen. Now this has become the mass equivalent of a moon walk.”

Tim Cowden, senior vice president of business development for Kansas City Area Development Council, has worked with Starner on several occasions.

“Brien doesn’t sit on his hands,” he said. “He’s a change agent, and that’s rare.”

Cowden said Starner expressed his desire to come to Blue Springs for the very same reason he hopes companies do: a cooperative city and one that is strategically located in the Kansas City area.

“He knew this was a unique time and place for Blue Springs,” Cowden said.

Cowden said Starner differs from many economical development directors. He said such a park wouldn’t offer quick enough returns for most directors.

“I’d say most would shy away from this kind of project because it might not show an immediate return,” he said. “But Brien has a taste for the long-term vision.”