The mission of the Engagement Center is to foster business, community and workforce development, and facilitate the process of innovation to enhance the regional economy. The Engagement Center will support the transfer of institutional knowledge and resources derived from within the University to the external environment to create new, high-value jobs, positive economic and social benefits, and advance entrepreneurship.
“We are confident the new Economic and Business Engagement Center will assist in meeting the needs of businesses, workers and communities through development of ongoing strategies and activities to promote long-term economic stability and growth,” Vargas said. “It will be our mission to provide southeast Missouri business and industry with the tools and resources they need to be successful.”
The Engagement Center will be led by Director Crystal Jones and will combine research and applied strategies to support the regional economy through workforce development, business development, community development and entrepreneurship training. Jones, who previously served as the interim director of the Institute for Regional and Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IRIE), will lead a new team formed from the staff of the former IRIE and the department of Continuing Education.
“By combining the former IRIE with Continuing Education, Southeast has created a Center that is well-positioned to offer comprehensive economic development support to rural Missouri,” Jones. “There are a number of economic development organizations and educational institutions that already do great work in their own communities. We want to be that collaborative partner they can engage with to help advance the regional economy through research and data, entrepreneurship training, small business development, workforce training, or any other economic development need.”
Workforce and Professional Development
By providing non-credit courses, the Engagement Center will help increase the skill level of the region’s workforce and enhance the region’s quality of life. This includes visiting with and assessing the workforce needs of area businesses and industries to develop opportunities to fill those needs in collaboration with the region’s stakeholders. Other initiatives include youth learning opportunities, leadership/management trainings, and both personal and professional enrichment courses offered through Continuing Education.
Small Business Development
The Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), which is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, will continue to provide one-on-one counseling and support services to small businesses as part of the Engagement Center. This includes help with business conception, business analytics, business development, and technical assistance, such as international exporting assistance. Help is also available for entrepreneurs in the region seeking financing for their new or existing small businesses in the form of two revolving loan fund programs managed by the Missouri Innovation Corporation, a non-profit organization of the University that shares staff with the Engagement Center.
The Engagement Center will work to advance the economy by drawing on regional assets to grow and strengthen its rural communities. Ongoing research projects include entrepreneurial ecosystem assessments, feasibility studies, and retail trade analyses for various communities and regions. Some of the new initiatives planned include a regional rebranding effort, Geographic Information System (GIS) services, and additional opportunities for agriculture producers and innovators.
Building on a decade of successful programs, the Engagement Center will grow the number and variety of entrepreneurship training opportunities in the region and to a network of affiliates. The Engagement Center’s InnovateU training program brand, which earned a 2016 Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations, features the LaunchU course for aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs. Spring 2017 classes will take place in Sikeston, Missouri, and the Cape Girardeau/Jackson, Missouri, area. Other opportunities for entrepreneurs will include social media marketing trainings, financial and accounting trainings such as QuickBooks, and more.
For more information about the programs offered through the Engagement Center, please contact (573) 651-2929 or visit engage.semo.edu.