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Listening to Missouri on the Heartland Together Tour

by | May 9, 2022 | Newsroom

To learn how to better support thriving local businesses in rural communities, the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) launched a two-week listening tour in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. It’s the opening phase of ‘Heartland Together,’ a partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (EMKF) to generate leadership for rural entrepreneurship in these four Midwestern states. KLC’s Ed O’Malley, Racquel Thiesen and Maren Berblinger toured the state of Missouri. After many listening sessions, conversation and miles, Racquel sat down to record her reflections.

Team Nebraska, Team Iowa, Team Kansas, Team Missouri…it was evident before we even embarked on the collective 5,000 mile entrepreneurial ecosystem listening tour that teams are essential to executing the work. It certainly was for the Kansas Leadership Center.

What we knew to be true about teamwork was reaffirmed during our time in the Show-Me State.


In Carthage, a team of four gathered with Ed, Maren and I for a robust and incredibly transparent conversation. While their ecosystem for entrepreneurs isn’t yet the bustling scene we’d find in other communities, their small team was being rebuilt because of change, trust and a vision. In the 75-minute heartfelt talk, they stumbled upon a name for themselves – the Core Four. Who knows if it will stick, but in that moment it energized them and served as a reminder that it takes a team to mobilize entrepreneur-building in communities.

West Plains

The room in West Plains was packed. It was evident that the Ozark Small Business Incubator wasn’t built on the backs of a few. Rather, an informal team of area residents, business owners and economic development professionals sat next to one another and openly acknowledged that a lot was going well. They also said it would take all of them, and then some, to make progress on their challenge of treasuring small town life while dreaming big possibilities for the area. It’s a seven-county effort – a lot of territory and people in southeast Missouri to mobilize.

West Plains listening session

Team Missouri: Racquel, Maren, Ed

West Plains listening session


What’s a team without a coach? In Joplin it would be hard to imagine that community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem progress without our community host, Doug Hunt. As meeting registrations were trickling in for communities across the four states, Joplin’s RSVP count soared to 20+. Economic developers are competitive by nature and the Missouri hosts wanted regular updates about registration in other towns. Doug, Director of Entrepreneurship at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, is the coach for team Joplin. They call him Joplin’s “secret sauce.” A coach needs a team, and, in this case, he works with a team of all stars seeking progress.


A blustery, snowy morning in Maryville blew in a dozen committed community builders ready to talk about the aspirations and challenges of fostering entrepreneurs and supporting business owners. They see a difference between the two and talked about which “team” folks found themselves on. It wasn’t something that divides the community but rather a recognition that different teams need unique resources, tailored support, and ongoing coaching. The desire for victory was evident. How to get there, less so. It takes a team effort – that much they’re certain of.


You know that team player that everyone talks about? The galvanizing force that every team in the state wishes they had? In Missouri, she lives in Kirksville and is revered in economic development and entrepreneurship circles. We met her on Friday but had heard about her on Monday. Carolyn is humble, forthright and a force to be reckoned with. Carolyn’s version of the story is that every member of the team is crucial, and her role is to ensure they all bring their best to the entrepreneurial ecosystem game – eco devo professionals, residents, elected officials. Everyone.


Kirksville listening session

Adair County Courthouse

Each team works from a unique playbook, but it seems from our listening that three things are key for success:


1. A team vision to ensure all players are moving toward a common goal

2. A coachable mindset to keep practicing and improving

3. Communication, collaboration and resources to succeed

Maybe it was because we’d been referring to ourselves as “Team Missouri” for weeks leading up to the tour that this “team” theme emerged as we traversed the state. Maybe we were unconsciously looking for it. Afterall, our beliefs about exercising leadership say you must engage others. Maybe teamwork really is the thread that stitches it all together in Missouri.

We know this, the game is building entrepreneurial ecosystems. The gameplan is to increase the skills of exercising leadership. It’s a winning combination!

We recently shared reflections from the Heartland Together Listening Tour in Nebraska and Cowley County, Kansas. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing a listening tour blog from our Iowa team. To learn more about the listening tour and the Heartland Together partnership with the Kauffman Foundation, visit our announcement.


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