The new economic developer for Cooper County will be a Boonville native with real estate experience who believes economic development is a community effort.
Gigi Quinlan McAreavy will start Oct. 7 as the first economic developer under a new partnership between Boonville and Cooper County.
The role is part of a new partnership between Boonville and Cooper County. The city will contribute $45,000 a year to the not-for-profit Boonslick Community Development Corporation, and the county will contribute $35,000. The 501(c)3 organization, which will employ McAreavy, has a twelve-member board: the Boonville City Administrator, eight members of the city’s Industrial Development Agency — including Cooper County Presiding Commissioner Don Baragary — and three other county residents. The city and county entered into a five-year agreement earlier this year that would require approval from the city, county and the organization to end early.
Running economic development through the not-for-profit allows for more flexibility. The organization can take private donations and offer incentives to the economic developer for the amount of jobs created.
The board advertised in four places and received 15 applications for the economic developer position. Everybody on the search committee was impressed by McAreavy during her interview, said Ken Hirlinger, president of the Boonslick Community Development Corporation. The board unanimously agreed to hire her, he said.
McAreavy’s experience in real estate and as a business owner were positives, Hirlinger said. The board was really looking for someone who would promote Cooper County, and McAreavy was clearly passionate about her hometown, he said.
“When you talk to Gigi, you can see how much she cares about the Boonslick,” Hirlinger said.
McAreavy grew up in Boonville, earning her real estate license at age 18. She went to Arkansas to open a business after going to college at State Fair and the University of Missouri, then on to St. Louis.
She always wanted to come back to Boonville, she said. She wanted to be there for the birth of nieces and nephews, and missed her family and people in town, she said.
“There’s no place like home, I mean, there really isn’t,” McAreavy said.
Along with its people, Boonville and Cooper County have a lot that other smaller areas don’t, like easy access to an interstate, railroad and river, McAreavy said. Along with attracting new business, she wants to sustain those already in Boonville, she said.
McAreavy believes her real estate experience will be especially useful in helping spur more housing development in the county, Hirlinger said. Former Mayor Julie Thatcher appointed McAreavy to a committee that looked at ways to expand housing in Boonville. It also helps that she is familiar with the community and has worked closely with bankers, real estate agents, and corporations looking to relocate people into the area, she said.
“You’ve gotta have houses if you’re going to bring in companies,” McAreavy said.
The city’s last dedicated economic developer was Jim Gann, who worked with the Industrial Development Authority under an agreement the city had with the University of Missouri. MU backed out of that agreement last July after budget cuts caused it to restructure the Office of Economic Development.
Gann has continued to share his expertise with the Industrial Development Authority as a board member, but McAreavy will be the first full-time developer working in the Boonville area in over a year.
She knows she has a lot to learn about economic development, but she is fascinated by it — pulling newspaper clippings from a folder with ideas that have worked in other places that she thinks may also work in Boonville, she said. She found a story about a Brooklyn man who developed a system to help small businesses deliver so they can compete with Amazon.
“I would love to call him and see what he’s doing so maybe our downtown merchants can be competitive,” she said.
Whatever ideas she has, real progress is going to take a community effort, she said.