July 23, 2010

Independence EDC Looking Ahead to Brighter Days

By Jeff Fox - jeff.fox@examiner.net
New location, new name, new development. These are heady days for the Independence Council for Economic Development, which recently completed a drive to add local investors.

The group has also moved in the Ennovation Center, a readaptation of the old Independence Regional Health Center in western Independence. It will serve as a base for small businesses – some new, some existing – in fields from food to bioscience, and will house many offices of the Independence School District.

The group has more coming. The ICED plans to roll out a new name sometime in the coming weeks, and it’s getting ready to announce a new industrial park.

“It is coming soon,” ICED President Tom Lesnak said of the industrial space.

“It’s something the community has needed for a long, long time,” he added.

The focus at the moment is the ongoing conversion of the old hospital. Eight old surgical suites are becoming biomed labs. A huge bank of freezers is being reused in space being fitted to rent out to those in the food industry, such as a cake decorator or a lunch wagon operator who only needs space and equipment for a few hours each week. There’s even a smoker because, after all, this is barbecue country.

“Now we’re in full construction mode,” Lesnak said.

Some school district programs have already moved in, and the ICED recently moved from the Chamber of Commerce building just off the Square, where it had been for years. Lesnak says it’s important to be near the companies the ICED is trying to support with the business incubator.

“We’ll do things for incubator businesses to support them,” he said.

The idea of an incubator is to make it easier for businesses to get going by sharing resources – meeting space, for example – that are keenly needed from time to time but costly or cumbersome to come up with on your own.

The construction progress, Lesnak said, is starting to bring in interested business people, something blueprints and brochures won’t always do.

“Well, I always say it’s the Show-Me State,” he said with a smile. “People want to see it.”

When Lesnak came on board at the beginning of 2007, the organization had about 30 investors. That number has been growing, and the ICED just completed a three-month push to add more – it’s at 115 – and add $60,000 a year in revenues. The final tally was $61,025.

“It came down to the last day, but we hit it,” Lesnak said.

The group has always had bankers and construction companies at the core of its membership but now has pushed more into the tech field as well. That progress, Lesnak said, leaves him “absolutely thrilled.”

Those gains can add to each other as well.

“We use our investors as a referral base too,” he said.

Lesnak said it’s important to distinguish between investors and members and that it’s critical that all parties get something out of the relationship. As one example, “People are also looking for new opportunities to market themselves,” he said.

Lesnak said the Ennovation Center project, something he has pushed for a long time, now has him getting into things he never thought would concern him.

“You’ve got to be nimble enough to adapt.”