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You dust off the desks in your brand new office in Columbia. It’s early in the morning, and bright golden rays of sun reach into your freshly washed windows and highlight the “open” sign you just hung from the door. It’s the first day operating your business, but you’re anxious and worried about the next steps to take in this new, unfamiliar location. It is in these situations that REDI, a nonprofit, membership-based organization, excels at helping to provide funds, consultation and job development — all of which the organization has been offering for 25 years.

Founded in 1988, Regional Economic Development Inc. began as a recruitment organization that planned to create cooperation among the city, county and water districts. It soon gained board members and partners to build its network, reach out to other companies and promote job growth. “The board now is very active and is fairly large,” says Bob Black, REDI board member and past chairman. “It’s more inclusive with a lot of input that better represents the community as a whole.”

Working with MU

When REDI decided to partner with the University of Missouri, along with other local colleges, the collaboration became a game changer in economic development and technology advancement. In 2007, REDI aided the university in constructing the MU Life Science Incubator at Monsanto Place. The program works to create and attract new technology and startup entrepreneurial firms by offering its facilities, mentors and research resources.

“There have been tremendous strides over the past few years in terms of the university being involved in economic development,” says REDI Executive Vice President Bernie Andrews. “Having an incubator has been something we talked about since the ’80s, and now it’s doing great on campus.”

Focusing on entrepreneurship

After Mike Brooks took over as president in 2009, the REDI team witnessed a strong switch to entrepreneurship. Brooks urged his colleagues to help companies get started in Columbia and emphasized university research. “We really do focus on entrepreneurship as a tool to generate job growth, and we’ve invested a lot of money in terms of trying to make that happen,” Brooks says. “That’s a large part due to the fact that relationships are very important in communities like ours that work together with levels of trust and understanding.”

One such way to connect businesses and exchange ideas is through conferences. REDI hosts opportunities such as the third annual #BOOM conference in January to strengthen the entrepreneurial community. These endeavors are stepping stones in REDI’s master plan to facilitate job creation and establish a stronger climate for entrepreneurship, Brooks says. Still, there is more to improve.

“Those are probably three or four areas that REDI needs to continue working on: entrepreneurship, working with the university as well as crafting new jobs and investments for Columbia,” says Bill Watkins, former REDI director and, later, city manager.

The IBM milestone

Among all of the major and minor successes REDI has achieved in its 25 years, working with IBM to open an office in Columbia was one of the most important. Together, REDI and IBM facilitated the creation of 600 or more jobs. This project was also completed at the most ideal time: when the unemployment rate was high in 2010. “The timing of IBM’s decision to select Columbia as the service center at a time when the economy was weak was extremely positive,” Brooks says. “It was a kind of medicinal shot in the arm for businesses here.”

It is these kinds of collaborations from REDI that are creating a more stable and positive economy in Columbia. Brooks says he hopes by continuing these efforts there will be a greater strength toward opportunities in the future.

“I think REDI has done a very good job in promoting Columbia as a place to live and do business,” Watkins says. “It’s really had a positive impact on employment and investment in our community.”

Timeline:

1988 – REDI is founded.

2005 – Creates Chapter 100 Revenue Bond program that is used for tax abatement

2006 – Helps plan, construct and market the Analytical Bio-Chemistry Laboratories facility in Discovery Ridge Research Park

2007 – Collaborates with the University of Missouri to build the MU Life Science Incubator at Monsanto Place

2008 – Provides a $25,000 grant to get Newsy.com started in Columbia

2009 – Mike Brooks becomes president of REDI.

2010 – Works to create an IBM office in Columbia, which begins operation in November

2013 – Sponsors the #BOOM conference for entrepreneurs and celebrates 25 years in business

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