Leonard Wood Institute and Sustainable Ozarks Partnership push economic development to limit impact of possible future force reductions.

The Leonard Wood Institute and the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP), along with the communities surrounding Fort Leonard Wood, have been looking at ways to build the region economically and reduce any economic impact a force reduction at Fort Leonard Wood might have on the region, if that should occur again.

St. Robert and Waynesville commissioned a personnel reduction study and the organizations have been talking to stake-holders in the region such as communities in Laclede, Phelps, Pulaski and Texas Counties.

Many of the ideas that came from the study are already in various stages of being implemented and were discussed at SOP’s recent meeting. Kent Thomas, Executive Director of the Leonard Wood Institute, discussed six of the ideas that the organizations think are the most viable in an interview Thursday afternoon.

There are a great number of ideas the organizations are looking at to help grow the region economically and continue to build on the framework of resources available here, but we decided to take an in-depth look at four of them.

1. Regional Traumatic Brain Injury Center

Thomas said that a consortium of five universities including Missouri S&T, St. Louis University, University of Missouri St. Louis, University of Missouri Kansas City, and University of Missouri Columbia, as well as the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Phelps County Regional Medical Center, and the Leonard Wood institute formed to talk about traumatic brain injury.

“The goal of the organization is to facilitate research being done on the acute effects of traumatic brain injuries. The hope is to establish a traumatic brain injury center in our region,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that a researcher at Missouri S&T has developed a machine that can identify tags in urine for cancer and is working on finding tags for concussive events in the brain. He went on to point out that a soldier in the field who has a possible concussive experience could be taken to an aid station, given a urinalysis and it could be determined very quickly whether or not it was a concussion.

“Nothing like that exists today,” Thomas said.

Another researcher at a St. Louis university has identified a chemical in the brain that spikes within 72 hours of a head injury. According to Thomas the lab animals show no evidence of a concussion after the researcher has reduced the chemical and there’s no evidence of brain injury.

“Think about that in the emergency room after a car accident, that could be an amazing thing,” Thomas said.

2. Career skills program

Another idea the organizations are working on and promoting is to make Fort Leonard Wood a “center of excellence” for helping transitioning service members. There are already a couple of programs in use that Thomas said they would like to see linked.

The two programs are Missouri’s Show Me Heroes program, a program to hire veterans and transitioning service members, and another program that allows soldiers leaving the military to spend up to six months interning at qualified businesses. The intern program pays up to half of the veterans salary for six months after they get out of the military, if the business hires them, according to Thomas.

“The two programs aren’t easy to link together, but if we can establish that linkage, we then have an avenue for the soldier retiring or ETSing to train as an intern at no cost to the gaining business and then to have at least part of their salary paid for the first six month if the business hires them,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the programs accomplish several things such as providing a source of employees for businesses that need reliable employees and jobs for the soldiers, as well as keeping them in the area stimulating the economy by buying houses, cars, furniture and living here.

“We think that has the opportunity for tremendous economic impact,” Thomas said.

3. Air service

Growing the air service from the Waynesville St. Robert Regional Airport is a big focus for the region. According to Thomas, ridership is “up significantly” and if a couple of other factors happen, the organizations believe there’s a good chance to attract regional jet service when they renegotiate their next contract.

Thomas said getting regional jet service was dependent upon finding a way to fund a new terminal and growing the ridership.

“Cape Girardeau just attracted jet service to Chicago with fewer riders than us. The only difference is the terminal,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that “we are working with both the state and federal legislatures to find the money to fund a new terminal.”

4. Regional marketing video

Thomas said that other communities around military installations around the country have “created elaborate marketing videos” to attract people to their areas. The videos are meant to target retirees, young families, and businesses.

“It’s one of those things that’s expensive up front, but has a large return,” Thomas said.

Thomas said they would like to create a marketing program and possibly work with tourism bureaus, such as the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau, which has been successful attracting tourism to Pulaski County’s stretch of Route 66.

“If people don’t know we’re here, it’s awful hard for them to find us,” Thomas said.