Crawford County Clerk Mardy Leathers is the new chairman of the Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) Board for the county. He sees the appointment from the commission as “the last piece of the puzzle” to further his work to market the local region to economic developers.
Leathers, who also serves as president and founder of the Cuba Development Group (CDG), said, “My passion is economic development, so this was a logical choice. I can be the voice for the county and can work to facilitate job growth in the area. We want the best workers, best jobs and highest quality of life around.”
In his new role as leader of the EEZ Board, Leathers plans to promote a strategic partnership between that entity and the CDG. He noted that the EEZ manages the economic incentives for the area and that it is a strong plan, but is limited in some ways. “It helps at the surface level, but now we need to be more proactive and that’s where work with a more aggressive body like the CDG in marketing the region will be beneficial,” he said.
Goals he has for the EEZ include organization of the board, creation of strategic partnerships with the CDG, the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), and the Missouri Partnership (a state-level nonprofit economic development organization Leathers is also involved with) and facilitation of job growth and sustainability for the region.
To that end, Leathers attended the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) Global Summit in February as representative for CDG. He was part of the delegation from the Missouri Partnership and the “official voice for Missouri economic development. We were there to market Missouri on the global stage,” he said.
The 748 attendees at the conference came from all over the world and were decision makers for a variety of companies—all interested in the concept of outsourcing. Leathers and CDG were there to promote Crawford County and the concept of rural sourcing—a brand new idea that is both “logical and revolutionary,” according to Leathers.
Many companies have been putting service areas overseas in recent years. However, they are now realizing that moving these kinds of jobs to rural America is just as cost effective and provides access to employees with a United States education, as well as better political atmosphere and infrastructure.
“Our chief goal is to create and sustain jobs while diversifying employment,” Leathers noted. “We have good companies for industrial manufacturing, but we want to add opportunities. We were there to promote the Barnett Business and Technology Park in Cuba for a contact call center. We want to pull people with a two-year or more degree to the area. We’ve faced the problem of people who graduate from the area and go on to college, but can’t come back because there aren’t jobs available.” Leathers reported that they were looking to attract companies that had been looking to India or Asia for call centers, but could just as well come to Crawford County.
“We are a natural fit because of our location and the dynamics of our county,” Leathers continued. “We were the rural voice—we’re telling the unique story on how we fit into the global market. I’m selling Crawford County as a community of potential employees.”
Leathers also coined the phrase, the “technology triangle,” for the area. “Major companies want to be located close to higher education institutions,” he said. Crawford County is near the University Missouri Research Park (an energy research center) in Ft. Wood, Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, animal science research at the University of Missouri in Columbia and plant and life science research in St. Louis. “We see ourselves as a regional player,” he noted.
He also pointed out that they are looking to new industries to encourage further growth and not to pull from current industries. “We want to bring in new people and new jobs,” he said. “Not cannibalize from the existing companies.” He added, “Our goal is to be the leader in the rural sourcing industry.”
Leathers was appointed as chairman of the Crawford County Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board of Directors at the commission meeting held on March 1. District #2 Commissioner John Hewkin had held the position, but reported that he wanted to step down and recommended Leathers for the job. Both Presiding Commissioner Leo Sanders and District #1 Commissioner Richard Martin agreed.