JEFFERSON CITY — Missy Creed looked down at the screen of a MacBook Pro around 4 p.m. on a late-February Friday as she offered offered help to a client at Campus Coworking In Jefferson City.
Tech startups make up only a handful of companies in rural parts of the state. Still, in recent years a handful of entrepreneurs in communities like Jefferson City, Moberly and other towns across Mid-Missouri took it upon themselves to build a support network for entrepreneurs in small Mid-Missouri towns.
Creed and co-owner Sarah Bohl opened the 5,000-square-foot Campus Coworking space at 619 E. Capitol Ave. in the old home of a regional theater.
“It’s just uncovering these people, but I think they’re here,” Creed said of the entrepreneurial community in Jefferson City.
A May 2018 report by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that the state’s inability to grow its workforce will be a drag on the state’s economy over the next 20 years. At the time the report said Missouri ranked No. 30 for job growth and that many parts of rural Missouri had yet to see a return to job levels attained before the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.
Some economic leaders hope that communities large and small will see the benefits of the new economy. Ted Abernathy, managing partner at Raleigh, North Carolina-firm Economic Leadership, said tech is one of the few bright spots for Missouri's economy.
Statewide all jobs paid an average of $57,000 per year in 2017, according to the report. Tech sector workers in the state made an average of $101,470, according to the report.
Even so, most gains in the industry go to Kansas City and St. Louis. Tech jobs accounted for just 5 percent of jobs statewide, according to an April report by the chamber.
Rural economies face an uphill battle in the new, tech-driven, economy, Abernathy said.
"Most of the new economy, especially post-recession, has been an urbanized economy," Abernathy said. "The data would suggest the larger an economy is, the faster the growth has been."
The 2018 chamber report recommended Missouri market its low cost-of-living to attract young people to live in the state.
Noviqu CEO Anna Haney said the low cost of office space played a role in the startup's decision to move from Columbia to Moberly in 2017.
Manufacturing software startup Noviqu employs six people out of an office at 208 Reed St. in Moberly. The company found a niche in the town by working with other regional manufacturers. Today the company has clients including Unilever, a global manufacturing conglomerate with a Jefferson City factory and boxing equipment distributor Everlast Worldwide, which has a Moberly distribution center.
"Often times, we get 'I don't know what you're talking about, but great for you,'" Haney said. "That happens more often than I probably care to admit."
Creed knows the manufacturing game. The Jefferson City native worked in a job that ships ABB transformers when she decided in October 2015 to start a business managing other companies' social media accounts. After working at both jobs for about six months she launched her digital marketing startup, Dogwood Social, in May 2016.
In November 2017 she and six other Jefferson City entrepreneurs launched a chapter of entrepreneurial-support group 1 Million Cups. By the time she and Bohl opened Campus Coworking in January, Jefferson City economic leaders including finally took notice.
At age 30, Creed wants to live in Jefferson City, but she also wants some of the big city comforts and staples like collaborative spaces where entrepreneurs can gather and brainstorm.
"Entrepreneurship in Jeff City, it's not what people think of when they think of Jeff City," Creed said. "Some people can think that's a negative thing or you can see that as an opportunity."
Likewise, Moberly economic leaders want to make sure they see Noviqu thrive.
"Having a smaller community around you, when they find out you exist, means they're willing to help quite a bit," Haney said.
Unlike startups in bigger cities, entrepreneurs in small cities know that from the outset, the majority of their clients will come from outside the region, said Collin Bunch, Regional Economic Development Inc. entrepreneurship coordinator. Software companies like Noviqu must also prove their concept earlier because rural areas often lack sources of venture capital that large companies have access to.
"Things here have to solve a real problem," Bunch said. "So in the long term you'll have less catastrophic failures."
As the new economy continues to evolve over the coming decades, entrepreneurs across Mid-Missouri believe they can build communities and dictate what their new futures hold.
"The people that are here right now are getting to decide what the future holds," Creed said. "We're getting to build it."
Part II: Rural Divide: Effects of factory closures continue to linger
Part I: Rural Divide: While Boone County booms, neighbors struggle with change
Part I Extra: Westmoreland: A journey together into the 'Rural Divide'
Part I: While Boone County booms, neighbors struggle with change
Part I Extra: Westmoreland: A journey together into 'Rural Divide'
Part II: Effects of factory closures continue to linger
Part II Extra: Some cities face uphill battle in tech-driven economy
Part III: Mid-Missouri is ‘leaking’ sales tax revenue
Part IV: Small schools see challenges, rewards
Part IV Extra: Small town, big field of dreams
Part V: Rural areas have limited health care, lower life expectancy
Part VI: Communities struggling to maintain basic infrastructure
Part VI Extra: Rocheport bridge rehab could be 'poison pill'
Part VII: Fewer Mid-Missouri farmers are tending bigger farms
Part VIII: Poverty a 'hidden epidemic' in mid-Missouri