New REDI president gives first address

J. Mike Brooks, who began his jobs as the city’s economic development director and president of Regional Economic Development Inc. on July 15, spoke to REDI’s investors for the first time Tuesday evening.

Brooks was, as REDI Chairman Bob Black put it, the reason most people came to REDI’s annual investor meeting in the clubhouse at Old Hawthorne.

“When I saw the economic opportunities that Columbia, Mo., had, I realized there was no other place I’d rather be,” Brooks said during his remarks.

Brooks has years of economic development experience. He ran the Chamber of Commerce in Bloomington, Ind., and spent 14 years as economic development director in Lafayette, Ind., where he worked closely with Purdue University.

After only three weeks on the job, Brooks said he’s still working on getting to know Columbia, as well as getting to know its people.

“I’m drinking from a fire hose and loving every minute of it,” he said.

Echoing city officials who have been playing up building stronger ties with the university, he said that would be a big part of his economic development focus. Developing intellectual property from MU is an important piece, he said, and making sure start-ups survive long enough to attract venture capital is of key importance.

He brought in some of his experience from Lafayette, saying he watched that community transition from real estate development to knowledge development.

“I think that opportunity clearly exists here,” Brooks said.

Brooks outlined what he described as a three-legged stool of economic development: Recruitment, retention/expansion and entrepreneurial growth.

Recruitment is the fun part, he said, because of all the PR opportunities when a company relocates to a community. But retention and expansion of businesses already here is the essential grunt work needed, he said, echoing statements City Manager Bill Watkins has made.

“It’s really critical that you get out there and support local companies,” Brooks said. “We will have a strong retention program going forward. Like I said, it’s not glitzy, but it’s important.”

And as for entrepreneurial growth, Brooks said Columbia is well positioned because of its venture capital network, Centennial Investors.

Columbia already has the corner pieces of its economic puzzle, Brooks said, pointing to health care, the university and the insurance industry. The next step is finding those side-pieces.

“Hopefully, with your leadership, we can build that puzzle,” he said.

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