Fathers are usually handing out the wisdom to their sons.
But Bill Brown, the recently named Cass County economic development director, took some advice from his son Zack, who works as a field representative for Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler.
Zack told his father to check out the county and see if this was another good job opportunity.
Brown, already experienced with economic development in Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, saw a chance to help a nearby community.
“I guess in this case, it was the father listening to the son and it was pretty good advice, “ Brown said.
Cass County officials hired Brown and his company, Spectrum Strategies, for the director’s job and to oversee the Cass County Corporation of Economic Development, a separate entity.
Brown has been an owner and consultant for Spectrum since 2007. He started the company to help bridge the gap between private- and public-sector job growth
“I wanted people to understand both parts of that that ledger, “ Brown said.
Brown has experience in several areas of economic development. He started working for Missouri Gov. Kit Bond in the 1980s and eventually became Bond’s state director while Bond was serving in the U.S. Senate.
After a move to Kansas City, Brown was appointed the regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) overseeing Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri for a few years.
Following a short stint with a troubled housing authority in Columbia, he moved back to Kansas City and worked for Fannie Mae.
He was also involved with housing development on the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
A longtime resident of Lee’s Summit, Brown has worked with that city on various projects.
Keith Asel of Hawthorn Bank, who works with Brown on the Lee’s Summit Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, said Brown has always been an important person to move the city’s vision forward.
“He knows the ripple effect of any decision,” Asel said. “Bill’s got the right balance, best impact for the community and the job employer or creator.”
Along with the rest of the land clearance agency, the two have been involved in projects that feature Licata’s Flowers & Accessories and the Stanley Events Center, among others.
Brown sees the potential to do something similar for Cass County, which he says is transitioning from a largely rural area to one with more of a suburban feel.
“There’s a tremendous amount of untapped potential, “ he said. “It’s a county that’s really coming into its own.”
After Melissa Freeman resigned as economic development director in October 2013 for another position, the county hired Sandra Allison of Rolla.
However, she backed out, citing business and personal conflicts.
Presiding County Commissioner Jeff Cox saw this as opportunity to merge the county’s two economic development arenas. He deemed Brown a solid candidate to move the county forward.
“Bill was well-positioned with his vast array of experience,” Cox said. “It was a very good choice to facilitate and assist more business coming into the county.”
With Belton and Harrisonville promoting economic development as part of local government, Brown sees his job as bringing the communities together while looking at the big picture for the county.
“You’ve got really good people in these communities working on economic development, “ Brown said. “My job isn’t to replace that. It’s really to look at Cass County and how I can add value.”
Another challenge is changing the county culture a bit.
Both Brown and Cox know that the people of Cass County are partial to the towns they live in.
“You are always going to have that competitiveness between communities, “ Brown said. “Everybody wants that next big business to be located there, but I’ve seen a great deal of support.”
Cox agreed that a different approach will help the county.
“By joining together and pooling our resources, it’s going to make everyone better off by bringing more business here, “ Cox said.
With Interstate 49 running through the county and a citizenry willing to upgrade parks and schools, Brown realized that he could find a fit as well.
“Whenever you’ve seen the public investment made in infrastructure, it’s our job to take advantage of that and leverage that, “ he said.
Brown’s still looking at some other places for improvement, including expanding the investor base, developing a better Web presence and managing existing assets.
And Brown has to spend time in the community as well, whether it’s at the brand new Academy Sports + Outdoors in Belton, or local restaurants and shops that have been around a long time.
“I need to get out and get to know these communities and the employers in these communities better, “ Brown said.