Where Ed Dust goes, jobs and development follow

Monday, September 19, 2005
Ed Dust is director of the Department of Economic Development in Sikeston.

SIKESTON -- For 32 years, Ed Dust has gathered no rust as he improved the employment situation in towns and cities in Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. The director of the Department of Economic Development in Sikeston since June 2004, Dust came to the job after a 20-year stint as executive vice president of the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce.

In Poplar Bluff, he assisted in bringing in Briggs & Stratton, which has grown to a powerhouse employer of 1,200 workers, Nordyne, Starting USA and Mid-Continent Nail Corp. -- companies that gave the city more than 2,500 new jobs.

In Sikeston, Dust plans to bring up to 200 new jobs to the city each of the next five years. The city's first Walgreens recently opened and has about 30 employees. The Shops at Lake Crossing, an open-air mall, is under construction downtown. A new and larger Aldi's grocery store is being built on South Main Street. Jobs are expected to be added at Tetra Pak, a liquid-food processing and packaging center, when the company moves some product lines from its Fort Wayne, Ind., facility.

"We're also getting a bit more industrial movement," said Dust, who was born in Pocahontas, Ark. "Brown Shoe and Alan Wire companies are now warehousing in the former Fleming building on West Malone, and we're still marketing parts of that huge building."

Dust said a new company, Task Masters Components, has bought the former Bunny Bread building, "and we're talking with local companies about expansions."

Dust does not carry a college degree, although he has taken numerous college-level management courses affiliated with chambers of commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Fresh out of high school, he worked a year for a manufacturer of wooden handles. Then he dabbled in the dry-cleaning business. After that he was selling shoes in Walnut Ridge, Ark., when a career opportunity opened up -- in 1972 he was hired as director of the Chamber of Commerce.

"I got hooked," said Dust, smiling at the memory. "I could see a profession where I could make a difference in a community. Although I was only there about a year and a half, we were able to relocate a Chicago company called Skil Corporation. It was a $5 million plant that employed 400."

Dust soon found himself at the reigns of the Paragould, Ark., Chamber of Commerce. From 1973 to 1979, he helped secure American Biltrite and Arkla Industries, two businesses that added 500 jobs to the local economy.

He contracted as a consultant with the Northeast Tourist Association of Arkansas. Dust also planned an annual golf tournament for local plant managers and out-of-town plant officials. He assisted in completing the City Airport Master Plan, and he visited other chambers to dispense advice on subjects such as finance and industrial development.

Dust moved to West Memphis, Ark., in 1979 and hired on as executive vice president of the West Memphis Chamber of Commerce. While there, he helped locate eight new industries to the area, and he helped bring in a $5 million Best Western Motel. He also helped increase chamber membership 48 percent while raising dues income 54 percent.

In 1983, Dust crossed into Missouri and spent the next 20 years as executive vice president of the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce.

"When I hit Poplar Bluff the chamber was small," said Dust. "Briggs & Stratton was not there yet. But after 20 years, it went from a small community to a thriving city."

Dust helped increase chamber membership from 250 to 650, and during his tenure the chamber budget rose from $85,000 a year to $200,000. Also, Poplar Bluff Industries, the not-for-profit arm of the Chamber, grew from a $100,000 net worth to an $11 million organization.

As the economic developer, he supervised the construction of three industrial spec buildings and helped land large employers such as Briggs & Stratton and Nordyne.

"I've moved around a little bit," he said. "But in every community I've been, there's been success in industrial development."

Dust paints a rosy future for Sikeston.

"We have a 600-plus-acre industrial park served by two railroads, a nice airport with a 5,500-foot runway and two interstates. (Interstate 57 from Illinois turns into the four-lane Highway 60 there.) So we're right in the middle of a transportation corridor. This community has a lot going for it."

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