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story.lead_photo.caption Cole County Courthouse Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

As the year begins to wind down, Cole County commissioners have begun looking at their economic development plan for 2022.

The county's approach to economic development takes two paths: hiring a consultant to promote economic development in the county and hiring a lobbying firm to promote the county's interests at the state Capitol.

The approach dates back nearly four years

Up until that time, for more than 20 years, the County Commission and Jefferson City partnered together to pursue economic development and lobbying efforts through the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

In 2018, county commissioners were not satisfied with the return on economic development investment and hired a different firm to lobby for the county and promote its economic development interests. Strategic Capitol Consulting was hired for a $120,000 contract for 2019. Jefferson City continued to contract with the Chamber of Commerce

A year ago, the Chamber of Commerce announced a study it had commissioned concluded a regional entity, separate from the chamber, should be formed to pursue economic development for Mid-Missouri.

The Jefferson City Regional Economic Partnership was born from that study and subsequent discussions.

JCREP, which would rely on a combination of private and public funding, would be focused on regional economic development, while the chamber would focus more on serving member businesses instead of trying to recruit new businesses while serving existing ones.

JCREP is governed by a board of community members. They include: Chairman Larry Kolb, of Kolb Properties; Vice Chairman Kirk Farmer, of Farmer Companies; Secretary Andy Stuckenschneider, of Industrial Warehouse & Distribution; Treasurer Dave Minton, of Central Bank; Gregg Bexten, of Hawthorn Bank; Gaspare Calvaruso, of Capital Region Medical Center; Jeff Davidson, of Modern Litho Print; Morgan Delong-Costello, of Delong's Inc.; Steve Linton, of Diamond Pet Food; Jeffrey Patrick, M.D., of JCMG; Chip Webb, of Ameren Missouri; Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin; and Cole County Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher.

Diane Gillespie with the Jefferson City Convention and Visitor's Bureau, and Gary Plummer, president of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, are ex-officio members.

In 2020, JCREP approached the county and the city, offering to provide economic development services.

In November, the Jefferson City Council agreed to pay JCREP $185,000 for the services.

In December, the county was asked for the same amount. But the County Commission instead agreed to pay $120,000 and signed a contract in March.

In the county's agreement, it states JCREP would "dedicate staff for the sole purpose of new business development and such staff will aggressively pursue new business and assist developers in attracting new businesses for all of Cole County."

The contract expires Dec. 31. The County Commission will start looking at its 2022 budget next month, and discussions on economic development funding will be addressed at that time.

County's lobbying efforts

The county is working to choose a potential lobbyist for the upcoming year.

In February, the County Commission hired Strategic Capitol Consulting, the lobbying group Cole County first contracted with in 2018, to provide consulting services for the county for six months.

Strategic Capitol Consulting was to monitor legislation in the Missouri General Assembly that could affect the county and lobby the executive branch of state government on behalf of the commission.

The contract called for the county to pay the lobbyist $5,000 per month for a total of $30,000, the amount the commission had set aside in its 2021 budget.

The agreement with Strategic Capital ended in June, and the county bid out these services for 2022 in September. The bids are currently being evaluated.

County's assessment to approach

A year into the new economic development and lobbying efforts, county commissioners are cautiously optimistic about the approach.

"We'll still keep the lobbying separate from the larger economic development agreement," Hoelscher said. "We still need to have someone up there (at the state Capitol) watching what's going on for us.

"I like the direction that JCREP is headed. I've met with Executive Director Luke Holtschneider, and he's energetic and has some good ideas. I think we need to give him and the organization some time to get their plans together since he's only been on the job for a few weeks."

Previously, Holtschneider was deputy director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development before accepting the JCREP leadership role.

"It's just too soon to tell on how this group will affect local economic development, so I think we have to give them a little leeway right now," Western District Commissioner Harry Otto said.

"It's a new concept and entity, and I hope it will be a boost for economic development the way they believe it can," Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said. "I've met with Luke, and I told him our most immediate need is finding workers to fill jobs.

"I don't know what the answer is, but I would want us to help the businesses already in place and trying to fill positions," Bushman said.

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