Architects construct visions by seeing things where others do not.
Fresh out of Kansas State University in 1976, architect Randy Allen returned home and joined an architectural firm where he interned during college. He saw building blocks in a community others often overlooked for more glamorous places and felt determined to build his vision in his hometown.
From there, he helped build The Architects Alliance, one of Mid-Missouri’s best-known design firms.
After 17 years, Allen joined the Missouri Division of Design and Construction, where as director, he oversaw more than $1 billion in design and construction projects for the state and implemented one of the largest prison expansions in Missouri history.
After nearly 30 years of designing buildings, Allen changed his focus in 2005 to building relationships within the business community as president of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Today, he leads many of the largest economic development projects in Jefferson City.
Questions and answers were edited for length and clarity.
Name: Randy Allen
Organization: Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce
Title: President and CEO
Hometown: Jefferson City
Last book I read: “Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most” by Steven Johnson
Favorite movie: “Hoosiers”
If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be: Probably doing something in architecture.
Q. How would you describe your job?
A. It’s a compilation of a lot of different things. It’s pretty general in nature because you touch so many things. Yet in certain ways you get down in the weeds in a lot of those topics. It’s a pretty interesting combination of community service, association management and economic development.
Q. What was the path that brought you to this job?
A. I went to school at Kansas State to get a degree in architecture. Then I returned here and joined the firm (that would become) The Architects Alliance. At that time, it was Pallardy and Evans. While I was there, it was reincorporated into The Architects Alliance.
Then I got a little bit of an itch and (former Missouri Office of Administration Commissioner Richard Hanson) asked me to take the job as the director of the Division of Design and Construction, now facilities management; design and construction. So I did that for 12 years, then took the deputy commissioner’s position for a short time until this position came open.
I always thought this would be a really fun, interesting job to be able to help my community.
Q. Who was one of your biggest influences?
A. From a chamber perspective, Jim Anderson probably was the biggest influence on me. He was in my job in the early 1980s, and I was a volunteer at that point. I was the chairman of (the chamber’s board of directors) one year. He was a great mentor. I thought this would be a good job to make an impact with.
Q. What’s the biggest professional achievement you’ve realized?
A. Probably the school bond issue projects in 1990, (which provided money to build Lewis & Clark and Thomas Jefferson middle schools and renovate the Simonsen 9th Grade Center) because we were on the team that got that bond passed.
Q. When people enter economic development, what is the most common mistake they make?
A. The biggest mistake economic developers make is trying to do things too quickly without a plan. Economic development is constantly changing, so you need to make sure you have a plan for what you’re trying to accomplish.
Q. You graduated from Jefferson City High School in 1971. Why did you decide to locate here?
A. Well, it’s my hometown. After college, I looked around. I had an internship here with Pallardy and Evans and really liked what they were doing. I could have gone to Wichita or a firm in Kansas City, but decided that was just too big.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge facing you over the next year?
A. The biggest challenge by far is to figure out what the chamber wants to do in terms of economic development activities. (Cole County) decided to do a different option for economic development. That led to some loss of funding. So we need to figure out what the chamber is going to do to keep moving forward.
Q. Does that mean cuts will be made at the chamber?
A. It just depends. It’s a two-sided coin. One is what you want to do. The second part is how you’re going to go about getting that done. Both of those are resourced-based.
Q. What can Jefferson City do to improve itself?
A. One of the things that smaller communities (struggle with) is a lack of growth. We have state government. State government is not a growing enterprise. So we’re hampered by that.
A fifth of our workforce is state government-oriented. So, as state government goes, so does Cole County. But you have to find other ways to diversify what you’re doing and grow your population and jobs.
Right now, we don’t have enough people to fill jobs. So it’s not likely that we can attract a large new business because we don’t have the workforce.
Q. Where do see your profession in five years?
A. Everything is changing. Five years seems to be a lifetime. We need to figure out what we can do to take advantage of what we have.
Q. In five years, you’ll be 70. Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. Retired. I suspect that at age 70 I’ll be ready. I probably will get back into some design work. Right now, it’s more of a hobby of mine. So I feel l like I’m pretty good at using the 3-D software that’s available.
Q. What are the best and worst parts of your job?
A. The worst part of my job is having to please everybody, and the best part of my job is trying to please everybody. This job is a very impactful position. Because of that, the fun part is trying to get that done. The bad part is you set yourself up for failure because everybody has an opinion and economic development is not an exact science. So you’re subject to criticism at every turn.
Q. What is something about yourself that nobody knows?
A. I applied to law school at (the University of Missouri-Kansas City) intending to work on building design and construction disputes and liability issues. I was accepted and put on the waiting list. I made the decision to begin practicing architecture instead and never looked back.
Q. How has Jefferson City changed since you graduated from high school?
A. We used to be more of a state government town, and we adopted that as our own. We had a lot of elected officials in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that, when they were elected, lived in Jefferson City. The community really was attached to state government years ago. Now it seems like we’re less attached because it has a little bit of a negative connotation to voters around the state.