MU Extension

It’s not often that I sit down for an interview where someone else asks the questions, but it happened to me a couple of times on Friday.

Dr. Pam Duitsman is part of a team from University of Missouri Extension collecting economic data on Christian County as it relates to the bigger picture of the Missouri economic climate. Duitsman’s official title is “County Engagement Specialist in Community Economic Development,” which is a lengthy way to say she’s invested in helping Christian County businesses have a brighter future.

Basically, Dr. Duitsman is gathering the information to perform a SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of Christian County. She is doing this by interviewing an array of key stakeholders and informants from Ozark, Nixa and the surrounding communities. After all, opinions of people in Clever or Billings will vary from the opinions persons hold in Sparta or Chadwick, and rightly so.

“It’s been really good for me. I like to talk about these kinds of things anyway,” Duitsman said. “It’s given me a formal opportunity to approach leaders—and to make sure that I’m doing it in a diverse way and hearing from all the different communities, diverse leaders and people who know.”

As the editor of the local newspaper, I was asked to have a conversation with Dr. Duitsman about the economic climate of the county I live and work in. It was a conversation I jumped at the chance of having.

“There is power in communication, that’s one thing I believe. Whenever you have conversations, if people are listening and talking authentically, good things happen,” Duitsman said.

I believe that, too. 

There is plenty going on in Christian County with a major commercial development on the Finley River in Ozark, plans to revamp Main Street in Nixa taking shape, new houses being constructed at almost record rates and a host of elected officials, appointed officials and observers like me trying to make sense of it all.

The researchers are working to figure out where counties are underserved—in all types of areas—and what resources the University of Missouri possesses that could be applied to those areas.

I also happen to believe that most residents of Christian County don’t know much about University of Missouri Extension, its relationship with the Christian County government, or how University of Missouri Extension offers up all sorts of great resources and information to the people who take advantage of it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to be a University of Missouri alumnus. Anything for you, fair alma mater. There’s a spirit so deep within us, Old Missouri here’s to your (rah, rah!).

The University of Missouri operates an Extension office in all 114 counties of the state. Similar assessments and interviewers are taking place in all 114 Missouri counties.

“There are going to be lots of cool things happening with this data when we gather it all up; it can be very powerful in helping us serve our communities in a better way,” Duitsman said.

Once all of the data is collected by the end of July, Duitsman will submit it to researchers who will enter the data into Qualtrics, a computer program used to analyze data for the purposes of market research. The program takes qualitative data, like my opinionated responses to Dr. Duitsman’s questions, and turns it into qualitative data. It looks for patterns, efficiencies and deficiencies.

Duitsman explained that the program also allows researches to identify similarities between Christian County and other areas of the state. It can draw more direct comparisons between surrounding counties like Greene, Taney and Stone, but also with suburban counties in the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas.

At the same time, Friday was job shadowing at the Christian County Headliner News. We had Ozark High School students—three of them—spend the day with our staff to learn about what we do at the newspaper. They all came prepared, and they peppered me with all kinds of questions throughout the day.

I would highly advise any Christian County business owner to welcome in some job shadowing students if they ever get the chance. The students were eager to learn and they asked several questions in such ways that it made me think critically.

Here is hoping Aisling, Kamryn and Kenzie learned a few things. I’d hope they would all consider futures in journalism. There is always the chance that a day of job shadowing at the Headliner News helped them determine that journalism is not the field for them, and that’s also okay. They have plenty of time to figure it out.

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