Rural areas of the state — including the Lake of the Ozarks — will have additional opportunities to enhance local economic development efforts after House Bill 1506 sponsored by State Rep. Diane Franklin (R-123) goes into effect Aug. 28.

Rural areas of the state — including the Lake of the Ozarks — will have additional opportunities to enhance local economic development efforts after House Bill 1506 sponsored by State Rep. Diane Franklin (R-123) goes into effect Aug. 28.

Passed by the Missouri General Assembly in May, the bill to establish a rural regional development grants program was approved by Gov. Nixon July 7.

"In the legislature, there's quite a bit of economic development for the state, but most of it focuses around the metropolitan areas," commented Franklin. "This bill helps give our rural areas what they need for them to maximize what they have for more economic development or continue to develop a greater capacity."

The grants are intended to enhance the efforts rural economic development agencies are currently doing to bring business to their areas, according to Franklin.

"Rather than have those resources in the [state's] Department of Economic Development, it will be pushed down to the local level," she said. "We know our area best so we can pick and choose what we need to know — the package we need to put together to attract businesses. Rather than one size fits all, we can tailor it for the area."

The new law primarily provides a funding mechanism to officially-recognized economic development organizations to help them develop data — such as information used by businesses for site selection — that may presently be above the level of study the groups can afford to have done. More information on the education level of an area's workforce can also be used for such things as technical schools analyzing the types of programs they offer.

According to the bill text, the grants may be used for, but are not limited to: Workforce development activities, such as evaluation and education; entrepreneurship training for pre-venture and existing businesses; development of regional marketing techniques and activities; international trade training for new-to-export businesses; in-depth market research and financial analysis for businesses; and demographic and market opportunity research to assist regional planning commissions in developing their comprehensive economic development strategy.

The law requires, subject to an appropriation not to exceed $5 million each fiscal year, that the Missouri Department of Economic Development create and implement rural regional development grants with individual grant awards not to exceed $150,000 and no more than two grants to be awarded annually through any of the planning commissions in the each of the 19 regions that currently exist under Missouri law.

Only economic development groups fully within the state and with operating budgets of $250,000 or less will be eligible for the grants.

A local match is required for the grants, and there are several tracking measures tied to the award to ensure accountability for the funds as well as help study what worked for some areas and what did not.

Grant recipients will be required to track and monitor job creation and investment, establish a process for enrolling commercial and industrial development sites in the region in the state-certified sites program or maintain its own list for these sites, measure the region's workforce skills, provide an organizational chart showing how businesses and officials are involved in the group and document financial activities for the year.

The tracking reports will go to the Governor; the Director of the Department of Economic Development; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and the Environment; and the House Committee on Economic Development.

While Franklin sponsored the bill, she credits local stakeholders with creating the bill and helping get it passed.

After many years involved in economic development, Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Council (LOREDC) board member Brian Meisel with First National Bank put the bill together and with support from LOREDC President Corey ten Bensel from Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments Executive Director Linda Conner brought the bill to Franklin.

They and others from the lake area testified for the bill in hearings with the legislature to support its passage.

"They were wonderful witnesses, and their testimony really made a difference," Franklin said.

The bill also had support from economic development councils around the state, she said.

Franklin first filed the bill in the 2013 legislative session then again in 2014 before it was passed.