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story.lead_photo.caption Economic Development Director Missy Bonnot poses in her office at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Missy Bonnot commands attention in any room.

A Jefferson City native and Lincoln University graduate, Bonnot knows that to gain respect in the economic development industry, women need to demand it.

"You have to stand up, speak your mind, be strong and not cave in to males," Bonnot said. "I think you stand out because you're different."

Bonnot, director of economic development for the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, wants to help people in Jefferson City. She does this by working to bring new businesses to the Capital City and giving people new places to work and earn modest livings.

Bonnot feels comfortable in the role she's been in for 14 years. For the first 11 years of her economic development career, she served the state in the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Bonnot loved the job and often traveled to cities like Atlanta, Chicago and New York to attract businesses to the state.

While working for the state, though, she sometimes felt detached from the community she grew up in and would later serve.

"Because I am from this area, I'd be saying, 'How come Jefferson City isn't doing this?'" Bonnot said. "I thought I could work for my own community, have more input, get to work more on a local level and get to know the community a little better."

In college, she was determined to be a social worker, but she found the work not as enjoyable as she had imagined.

"I decided I really liked the business aspect more than the social work aspect, which was kind of surprising to me because I knew I wanted to be helping people somehow," Bonnot said.

So after two years at an entry-level job in Columbia, Bonnot entered the economic development field. During her 25 years in the field, she's tackled projects large and small.

In the early 1990s, she spearheaded a project for the state DED that brought a new Harley Davidson factory to Kansas City. Most recently, she spearheaded efforts to bring Axium Plastics' new factory to Jefferson City, a project that will employ up to 70 people.

As Bonnot continues her work at the chamber, she said, Jefferson City faces challenges like a low unemployment rate and a shortage of IT professionals that the area's business leaders are working to solve.

Q. Who has invested in you and your career?

A. "This lady, B.K. Perkins. She hired me at the Department of Economic Development and gave me my start in economic development. She trusted me. She mentored me and took me under her wing. We are in a pretty male-dominated industry, and she showed me first that strong women can really have a impact in this industry.

"She really spent time explaining the economic development process and how projects work. She had a lot of trust in me that I could learn and follow up with companies and do the best job I could. We traveled a lot in Missouri to communities, and the whole time she was educating me about economic development and companies."

Q. What choices have you made to invest in yourself and your own success?

A. "The biggest thing is I'm open to hearing other people's perspective. I'm kind of a gray thinker, whereas my boss, Randy Allen (Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer), is a white-and-black thinker. He's really opened me up to thinking about situations differently than what I'm used to, and it's made me a much stronger economic developer. He's very technical. He's an architect by trade. That's why we make a pretty good team."

Q. Of what professional achievement are you most proud?

A. "Probably Harley Davidson. I worked the longest on it. We had competition. We had unions involved. We had the company. We had the consultant. We were working with a large community. That's one I'm most proud of.

"One locally was the Special Olympics Training for Life center. That was a done deal that it was going to Columbia. It was my responsibility to bring that project together and present it to the Special Olympics board."

Q. What do you see as the biggest issues facing women in the workplace?

A. "It's cliche, but it's this family-work-life balance. I really respect women, especially when they have children that are young, trying to balance their work life with getting their children where they need to be to still having time for yourself. That's so important, whether that's working out or having girls' night out. That's really important for women to do that. We have a lot more responsibilities than men do. Now I'm an empty-nester, so it's a lot easier for me to find that balance than when my kids were in three different sports and trying to get them to all their different locations."

Q. What drives you most in life and in your career?

A. "Knowing at the end, trying to make someone's life better. I don't do it in my social work mentality, but if I can help an Axium Plastics locate to Jefferson City, knowing that people in our community will have more opportunities, knowing that I can help our community get better — that's what drives me."

Q. What advice would you give to a woman entering the workforce?

A. "If they can, be confident and strong and speak their mind. Confidence is such an important part of growing their career, and to try to learn as much as possible. Even if you're in a position that you're not crazy about, make the best of it and do as much as you possibly can to learn as much as you possibly can so you can take those skills other places."

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