Extension strengthens communities by
fostering economic development, educating and empowering local leaders, and improving civic participation.

A meeting room with a banner for Encircle Technologies
An EnCircle Technologies teacher leads a class discussion on socialization skills.

graphic: chart with 95%

The National Association of Counties conducted a survey of 3,069 counties across the United States, taking into account annual unemployment rates, economic output and median home prices. It found that 95 percent of county economies have not yet fully recovered to their pre-recession levels.

graphic: storytelling festival book

The St. Louis Storytelling Festival has been a mainstay in the region for more than 36 years, but its 36th outing was almost its last. The festival would have ended for lack of financial support but for the partnership formed with MU Extension, which helped make the 2015 Storytelling Festival one of the largest to date with more than 12,000 area schoolchildren in attendance. "The St. Louis Storytelling Festival lays the foundation for 21st century learning.” – Lee Ann Woolery, MU Extension community arts specialist

MU Extension has helped communities — large and small, urban and rural — deal with lingering effects of the 2008 recession, such as the shifting demands of a modern workforce and a growing dearth of experienced management. Through a variety of development and education efforts, extension specialists work every day in every county of the state to prepare Missourians to join, thrive and advance in the modern workforce.

Demographics are shifting in the modern workforce as baby boomers begin to retire. Coupled with a state economy on the rise and a burgeoning technology sector, Missouri businesses face new challenges in the labor market. Extension specialists in the Business Development Program work with employment boards, banks, chambers of commerce and other development organizations. In fiscal year 2015, they have helped Missouri businesses create or retain more than 3,200 jobs and helped start 213 new businesses.

One of those new businesses, EnCircle Technologies, was founded under the guidance of Collin Bunch, a specialist from the Small Business and Technology Development Center in Columbia. Teri Walden and Becky Llorens started EnCircle to help autistic young adults with job training to join the workforce in the technology industry. "It was really helpful for us to find somebody like Collin who knows the business side of things," Walden said.

Bunch provided market research, business planning expertise and help with digital marketing, financial projections and management duties. There are specialists like Bunch all across Missouri, helping would-be entrepreneurs realize their vision and start new businesses. Entrepreneurs and business owners seek out MU Extension development specialists for their expertise to help grow and expand their business.

Just as businesses turn to MU Extension, local communities turn to the Community Development Program for guidance and support. The program has a statewide network of specialists that advise and partner with local leaders to build resilient, sustainable communities.

Take Fredericktown, for example; a small community in the Ozark foothills. Many rural Missouri fire departments, like the one serving Fredericktown, depend heavily on volunteers for both firefighting and search-and-rescue. However, volunteer forces lack some of the resources available to traditional firehouses. Extension specialist Frank Wideman sought to make some of these resources available to his community using a tool found in many modern cellphones and cars: GPS technology.

Wideman employed the help of a local Boy Scout troop to map the town’s nearly 300 fire hydrants, then trained Fredericktown first responders on how to use GPS technology to locate those hydrants when dispatched. Knowing the exact locations of nearby fire hydrants helped Fredericktown volunteer firefighters cut response times. Using existing infrastructure and readily available tools, Wideman helped make Fredericktown more resilient in the face of disaster at relatively little cost to the community.

Whether helping Missourians start new ventures or using existing infrastructure and resources to build community resilience, MU Extension specialists work throughout the state to improve conditions for individuals, businesses and communities and give them every opportunity to grow and succeed.