Luke Holtschneider is no stranger to economic development, having worked on some of the state's largest projects over the past few years.
Now, he's focusing that expertise and experience on home as the first executive director of the Jefferson City Regional Economic Partnership.
A Jefferson City native, Holtschneider previously served in multiple capacities with the Missouri Department of Economic Development, including most recently as its deputy director. He began his tenure with the department as a project manager just prior to the 2008 recession, almost immediately seeing the great challenges and great rewards of the work that would inform the response to another economic crisis more than a decade later.
"You saw the challenges and issues with industries, you saw the communities that were struggling due to extremely high unemployment and employers that were having to do large reduction in force," he said. "Ultimately, the challenging times showed me ways in which communities and organizations were able to survive and thrive and that in the good times, you see the work that's being done so that you can survive. So it was extremely enlightening for me."
With extensive knowledge of the efforts underway in nearly half of the state, he spearheaded DED's focus on the rural communities that were having a harder time bouncing back from the recession as manager of rural development. He focused on identifying ways to improve rural communities by engaging with communities across the state and working with various stakeholders, from rural electric cooperatives to the Regional Planning Commission.
Even back then, Holtschneider said the most prevailing issue he heard was broadband.
"There was not a single organization that was focused holistically across the state on ways to address and assist in the dissemination of broadband. It's a utility, it's an infrastructure component, somebody should be looking after that. So we were able to kind of organize some key groups to really hone in on the issue, which is the lack of broadband, as well as the lack of dedicated focus on it as a state."
Holtschneider and DED worked with the Department of Agriculture to create the state Office of Broadband. The office has continued to engage with lawmakers and the executive branch to encourage broadband buildout and, recently, to help determine uses for federal COVID-19 funds.
In 2017, Holtschneider was approached to serve as the department's deputy director during a time of reorganization and refocusing for DED. After a few years at the forefront of the department's budget process and engagement with partners for research and strategy, DED found itself amid another crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, a situation the state approached from an economic lens as much as on health.
Jefferson City and Cole County, meanwhile, opted for a new entity separate from the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce to handle their economic development projects. As the newly-formed JCREP sought a leader, Holtschneider said he saw the perfect opportunity to direct his expertise and experience into the community he calls home and took the reins in the middle of 2021.
"I love the community," he said. "At the end of the day, the approach and the training that I had at the state helped prepare me from a strategic standpoint to challenge what we do, why we do it, how we're doing it, and not just doing what's always been done. We're finding out how we can understand what it is we're trying to do as a new organization."
Holtschneider said the group's focuses included broadband coverage for the area, the redevelopment of the Missouri State Penitentiary property and expanding opportunities for business growth. With numerous projects on the horizon and plenty of work to be done, he's up for the challenge.
"If you ask a stranger on the street, 'What's economic development?' it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Because if you break the words down, you know, it's developing, it's growing, it's improving, it's building upon the economy," he said. "At the end of the day, I think everybody wants to see a stronger community with a growing population and increased wealth. And that's what we're focused on."