Incubating small business

Monday, July 7, 2008

When Dennis Roedemeier agreed in 2003 to take on the job of building up Southeast Missouri State University's role as a center for business development and applied research, he made a five-year commitment to the job.

Since then, Southeast has opened the only Innovation Center in the state that is not affiliated with a University of Missouri campus. The Small Business Incubator is in operation and has fostered the growth of numerous small companies. And the new Interstate 55 interchange is open, making it possible to develop the technology and research village, housing and retail areas on property owned by the Southeast foundation.

Last week, Roedemeier said he accepted an offer from Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins to stay on for a sixth year. Among the unfinished business on Roedemeier's agenda is to turn the potential of the new interchange into reality.

And, said Roedemeier, who keeps his permanent home in Cuba, Mo., Cape Girardeau is one of the best places he's ever worked.

"This is the nicest place my family and I have ever been," he said. "The people have been so genuine in their concerns, the people have been great."

Since I wrote my June Business Today column about Roedemeier's possible departure, he said he's been approached by a variety of people urging him to remain in Cape Girardeau. "It is not often you get treated like that in a job."

While there is always unfinished business in every job, there are two potential military contracts that could bring a significant research project to the university that would fit the research village concept, Roedemeier said. By staying on, he said he hopes to be able to successfully land the contracts and get the village off to a strong start.

Roedemeier's accomplishments since taking the job are enough to burnish any resume. In an interview Thursday, Dobbins noted that when Roedemeier arrived, there was no incubator or innovation center. The university has raised its profile as a center for entrepreneurship training and has won awards for its training program at Southeastern Illinois Community College, landed a grant to do training at Dyersburg Community College in Dyersburg, Tenn., and a Workforce Investment Board grant to offer a program at the West Plains campus of Missouri State University.

"I think we need to continue the momentum," Dobbins said. "And he is working on some clients that might go into the research village."

Roedemeier agreed to remain until Aug. 31, 2009, Dobbins said. And he added that he will speak to Roedemeier again in February about future plans.

Roedemeier came to Southeast after six years with the Missouri Department of Economic Development, where his last job was as director of the Business Development Group. Prior to that, he played a leading role in developing the University of Missouri research park in St. Charle County and was economic development director for Cuba, Mo. from 1983 to 1988.

He has a business background as the founder of Bourbon Paint, a company that specialized in providing road striping services to local governments, supplying paint for military construction and also for bridge projects. He became involved in economic development after selling that company.

The position with Southeast will likely be the last long-term position Roedemeier accepts, he told me in May when I was preparing the Business Today column. He wants to spend more time at his home in Cuba and see his grandchilden on a more regular basis.

"I am an on-the-ground field commander," Roedemeier said at the time. "I love to do specific projects. I love to get them started and then it is time to go and turn it over to the next team."

Signs of the times: Everyone knows the economy is struggling. And national problems are being felt here in a variety of ways. And national news reports bring questions about the future of two local retail establishments.

The Starbucks coffee shop at 188 Vantage Drive near Interstate 55 opened in October 2007 and now, about nine months later, it could be slated for closing.

The coffee company announced Tuesday that 600 of its under-performing stores in the country are closing by the first half of the fiscal 2009.

Starbucks spokeswoman Julianna Bowman told my colleague Brian Blackwell that details for specific locations are still being finalized. She added that the stores identified for closure are spread across all major markets, with approximately 70 percent of them opened since fiscal year 2006.

"Out of respect and dignity for our partners, and our desire to share this information with impacted partners first, we are not publishing a full list of the stores," she said.

The other area retailer with question marks on the future is Steve & Barry's, one of the anchor stores at West Park Mall. The clothing retailer that features deeply discounted wares with celebrity brand name endorsements is in talks with a bankruptcy attorney and creditors about its future, and the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the company could close as many as 100 stores in the near future, if it does not completely liquidate its holdings.

I called the local store and manager Ashley Christensen directed me to the company's public relations division in the home office. No one was available, and it is probable that with things in such flux they would not be able to give me any insight into the local store's future.

One clue to why the company is in trouble, according to the Journal, is that the Steve & Barry's business model depends on large cash payments to the company from mall operators to open stores on their properties. The total profit margin for the company's $1 billion in annual sales was about 1 to 3 percent, the Journal reported, and those profits may be drying up as retail property owners retrench in the uncertain economy.

Fueling sales: You may have noticed Chrysler's advertisement on television commercials for $2.99/per gallon gas with the purchase or agreement to lease its cars. Using a special card, this deal for new car buyers guarantees program participants pay the set amount for a maximum number of gallons, depending on the vehicle's model, for the next three years.

One local dealership who offers this deal recently went the extra mile.

Auffenberg Chrysler SuperCenter, 611 S. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau, gave away $250 in free gas on June 30 to Mounds, Ill., resident Benny Owens. The ongoing contest was part of the dealership's endorsement from KIA, where customers can register to win anywhere from $1 to $250. Since the shopping contest began two weeks ago, about 40 people have registered to win the cash.

Southeast Missourian business writer Brian Blackwell contributed to this column.

Rudi Keller is the business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at or call 335-6611, extension 126.

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