Experience in politics prepared new Grow Neosho CEO

Jake Heisten (right) talks recently with James Loncarich about how Grow Neosho, an economic development group, hopes to retain and expand local businesses and jobs. Loncarich is an associate with Hurst-Rosche Inc., an engineering services company. GLOBE | ROGER NOMER

NEOSHO, Mo. — As a former field representative for a U.S. House member, Jake Heisten has some stories to tell.

But the stories he is most focused on now hit a little bit closer to home.

"I usually don't hear anything about Neosho unless I ask," said Heisten, the new director of Grow Neosho, an economic development group. "I think we can put our best foot forward and tell Neosho's story better."

Heisten, a Carthage native who graduated in 2006 from Missouri Southern State University, put his degree in political science to good use right out of college, landing an internship, then a job with then-state Sen. Gary Nodler until 2010.

He then landed a job as a field service representative with U.S. Rep. Billy Long, for whom he worked for about eight years. In that role he did a lot of talking with constituents and attending meetings.

Performing that job required him to deal with politics on a national stage. So when he was approached by the Grow Neosho executive board about the position, he leaped at the opportunity to work on local issues for people who weren't looking at them through a political lens.

"After 13 years of being in national and state politics, it kind of took a toll on me," Heisten said. "So as I thought about being a part of an organization where we could move the needle and see progress, where we could make things better and grow, that became appealing to me."

Two months into the job, Heisten is ready to get to work moving that needle, but faces some challenges.

One of the biggest challenges deals with the area's workforce. Businesses struggle to find enough employees for their positions, he said — especially health care fields. Partnerships with Crowder College and the Neosho School District should help, he said.

"Our workforce is being tapped at every level for business and industry," Heisten said. "We have workforce development partnerships with Crowder and the Neosho School District. They can let us know what kinds of graduates are coming, and in what areas. If we know the types of workers we'll have, we know what industries to recruit."

The city's workforce will also be affected by the results of the 2020 census. Heisten and others hope that it reflects the city's continued growth, which would help with business retention and expansion.

But one of the biggest changes he's working on deals with the small screens of smartphones and desktop computers. The group plans to rebuild its website in a way that will help Neosho's story be told across the country.

"Right now, we don't know who's looking at us, and we want even more looking at us," Heisten said. "We'd like to enhance our presence online digitally as a way to market our area outwards."

Heisten said he wants to further strengthen the relationship between Grow Neosho and other city groups, such as the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce and the city government. He pointed to how those organizations do great jobs at telling their stories through social media, and he hopes to coordinate that effort.

He sees all these layers working together like a watch, as seemingly independent parts work toward a common goal. And his past career has prepared him well for those future efforts, he said. He'll be able to monitor and advocate for state and federal laws that could give Neosho a hand.

"My past career shaped me and gave me great perspective," Heisten said. "For better or worse, one or more levels of government affect our daily lives. Having that experience has given me some great training to succeed at this job."

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.