Talking Shop with Mitch Robinson, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Area Magnet

Monday, January 25, 2010
Mitch Robinson is executive director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet. (Fred Lynch)

He's the director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, but those closest to Mitch Robinson also know him as a University of Kentucky basketball fan and the chairman of the local CrimeStoppers organization. A native of Owensboro, Ky., Robinson first came to Southeast Missouri in 1993, when he was hired as director of the Cape Girardeau Area Industrial Recruitment Association. The name was changed in 2004 to Cape Girardeau Area Magnet to reflect that the organization isn't just focused on recruiting manufacturing plants but also is interested in drawing retail businesses to the area. Business reporter Brian Blackwell sat down with Robinson last Friday to learn more about his views on the region's future growth, his involvement in CrimeStoppers and his love of basketball.

Q: You're a native of Kentucky, which is known for horse racing, bluegrass music and college basketball. Why do you love University of Kentucky basketball so much?

A: We watch all the games. I've seen Kentucky play in St. Louis, Memphis (Tenn.) and Atlanta, but never in Lexington. In Kentucky there are no professional sports, no Cardinals or Rams. The closest professional team is the Tennessee Titans. So you gravitate toward what you have in the state, and of course basketball is king in Kentucky. There's tremendous fan support in the state as well as outside the state. And unfortunately there are always those fans who are too rabid. You get those nutcases that everything revolves around the team.

Q: Tell me why you became involved with the local CrimeStoppers?

A: We started that group in 1998. A lot of people support it financially. I can't say it's fun but I'm glad we're able help the police provide these rewards for people who offer tips [that result in arrests]. My role is to raise money, and whenever there is a reward given we provide cash payment to an individual. The crimes that caused us to get involved at first were break-ins at senior homes in 1998. [My involvement] goes back to that concern for our senior citizens as well as being somebody that wants to support our police. If people have knowledge of various crimes, these financial rewards provide an incentive for them to come forward. The payouts range from $25 to $150, though we have given $1,000. The more serious the crime, the larger the amount.

Q: What will it take for this region to grow?

A: The economy is going to have to bounce back. One thing that would have a tremendous impact would be the east-west highway, whether it's Interstate 66 or another four-lane highway. Infrastructure is critical for a community to grow. If you don't have that in place it will stifle growth. The medical community is so strong here. That's been a salvation for the overall economy. That's a huge plus. Our tourism efforts are doing their best to develop new attractions. All the cylinders have to be firing to move the whole area together. When people ask me about the area and how I would describe it in one word, I would say diverse. We've been fortunate, though we had layoffs with Dana and Thorngate. But since then we've weathered the storm pretty well.

Q: When will the Southeast Missouri State University Technology Village become reality?

A: I think we're going to be looking at the next three to four years. The economy will have to turn around. That's going to take an attitude change where people feel more comfortable so investors will come in and the university will [continue] development. With their funding situation it may take a while.

Q: What areas do you see growing the most in the future in Cape Girardeau and Jackson?

A: The landowners around the interchange areas are poised for development for whenever the housing market changes. That's a tremendous situation in the local economy. You talk to people here and they'll say we're affected to some degree. People have to rethink how they expect development and growth to occur. It will take a while before people are willing and able to go out and invest. Jackson will grow down Highway 25, toward Gordonville. With the new expanded four-lane of Highways 34 and 72, you'll see growth near Millersville. For Cape it will be the north side. Both cities are working on their infrastructure and making sure they're up to capacity.

Q: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

A: I'd like to trade spots with President Obama. I'd enjoy it knowing it was only for one day. I'm kind of an opinionated guy and could make some changes. Of course we all know you can't change anything in one day. I'm a huge supporter of our troops and going to show appreciation to our young men and women would be a humbling experience to some extent.

Q: When you moved here did you ever think it would be for 17 years?

A: The nature of our business is most people don't stay here 17 years. This area is very similar to my home area and where I went to school. It's a Midwestern and Midsouth value. The people here are very genuine and hardworking and I appreciate that. They want to make their community special and a better place to work. That's important for someone in my position. You can make a difference in a community the size we have here.

Q: What community most closely resembles Cape Girardeau?

A: The Paducah area is similar to here. They're a regional hub and we're a regional hub. They have other communities that surround Paducah like Scott City and Jackson. They're both river towns.

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